Pharyngula

The ubiquitous Francis Collins

Collins has another published interview in Salon. It’s sad, actually—in every new interview, he says pretty much the same thing, but he digs himself in a little deeper. I ordered his book the other day, and now I’m beginning to regret it; it’s beginning to sound like trite Christian apologetics with no depth, no self-reflection, no insight…just compound anecdotes intended to rationalize a conclusion he has arrived at with no evidence. It’s distressingly anti-scientific.

For instance, we get an expansion of his hiking anecdote:

You also write about a seminal experience you had a little later, when you were hiking in the Cascade Mountains in Washington.

Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith. And that leap of faith seemed very scary to me. After I had struggled with this for a couple of years, I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.

When it was just a story about being awe-struck by nature, I could sympathize. I can share that feeling, and I can appreciate that the world around us is impressive and inspiring. But now we discover that Collins is impressed that it is a “three part” waterfall, and he’s suddenly driven to embrace the Trinity. You have got to be kidding me. If it had been a two part waterfall, would he have converted to Zoroastrianism?

This is unconvincing apologetics that will only be persuasive to those who have already accepted the silly dogma of a triune god. This is the patent goofiness of an irrational believer. But hey, that’s OK, he can believe whatever he wants, and I get to call it ridiculous…what I find even more damning, though, is his hypocrisy and inconsistency. Early in the interview, he makes a statement that should have haunted all of his later comments.

A lot of scientists say religious faith is irrational. Your fellow biologist Richard Dawkins calls it “the great cop-out.” How do you respond to these critics of religion?

Certainly this has been one of the more troubling developments in the last several decades. I think that commits an enormous act of hubris, to say — because we’re now so wise about evolution and how life forms are related to each other — that we have no more need of God. Science investigates the natural world. If God has any meaning at all, God is outside of the natural world. It is a complete misuse of the tools of science to apply them to this discussion.

Note that he’s saying two things clearly here: God is outside the natural world, and that you can’t apply science to the issue. Watch how he subsequently destroys his own position.

Remember, it is a misuse of the tools of science to apply them to the question of the existence of gods.

The subtitle of your book refers to “evidence for belief.” What do you find to be the most compelling evidence that there is, in fact, a Supreme Being?

First of all, we have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginably bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. That implies that before that, there was nothing. I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, could have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature. And that sounds like God.

A second argument: When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants — the gravitational constant, various constants about the strong and weak nuclear force, etc. — that have precise values. If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it. Matter would not have been able to coalesce, there would have been no galaxy, stars, planets or people. That’s a phenomenally surprising observation. It seems almost impossible that we’re here. And that does make you wonder — gosh, who was setting those constants anyway? Scientists have not been able to figure that out.

You are talking about a God who intervenes in the world — the presence of a personal God.

Right. I haven’t quite finished my list of evidences. I started with the deist ones –which are the Big Bang and the Anthropic Principle — very strong arguments, by the way. But that doesn’t get you to a personal God. The argument that gets me is the one I read in those first few pages of “Mere Christianity,” which is the existence of the Moral Law, something good and holy, that in our hearts has somehow written that same law about what is good and what is evil and what we should do. That doesn’t sound like a God that wandered off once the universe got started and is now doing something else. That sounds like a God who really cares about us and wishes somehow to have a relationship with us.

Apparently, it is wrong to use the tools of science to argue against gods, but Francis Collins has some kind of divine dispensation to misuse science to argue for gods. The Big Bang and Anthropic Principle are not strong arguments for a deity at all, and certainly not the detailed dogma Collins accepts—for that, he has to resort to the pratings of a most unconvincing theologian. This is weak. Good for the interviewer for at least noticing that the subtitle of Collins’ book directly contradicts his assertion that you can’t use science in this argument.

The other excuse he used is that god is outside the natural world. Look how quickly he abandons that pretense:

But how can you as a scientist accept some of these ideas in the Bible that cut so directly against the laws of nature?

I have no trouble at all. Again, the big decision is, do you believe in God? If you believe in God, and if God is more than nature, then there’s no reason that God could not stage an invasion into the natural world, which — to our limited perspective — would appear to be a miracle.

And yet, this does seem to be a case where religion and science are in fundamental conflict. Everything we know from science says this is not possible. The Virgin Birth is not possible. The resurrection of a dead person — no matter how special — is not possible. It’s never happened in the history of the world, as far as we know.

Again, that would be the perspective if one had decided upfront that the only worldview that can be brought to bear on any circumstance is the scientific one. In that situation, all miracles have to be impossible. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to accept the spiritual worldview, then in certain rare circumstances — I don’t think they should be common — the miraculous could have a non-zero probability.

I say that if God can ‘invade’ the natural world, then he is not outside that world at all, and the nature and causes and effects of that invasion certainly are subject to scientific scrutiny. I’ll go further and plainly state that his instances of a supernatural intervention are without exception unconvincing, vague, subjective, rooted in the corrupted garbling of history, and more reasonably explained by entirely natural causes…and that scientists should not be so gullible as to so easily accept such feeble nonsense as evidence for a myth. His claim that “god is outside the natural world” was simply a dodge to evade the rigor expected of scientific claims.

Collins the theist is no scientist. When he puts on the silly hat of a Christian, he also abandons the mindset of an honest scientist.

One more thing I have to mention, because it is so absurd. Guess who we can blame for Intelligent Design?

Why do you say those arguments have been started by scientists? Because some of these scientists — like Dawkins — have said the theory of evolution leads to atheism?

That’s been a very scary statement coming back towards the religious community, where people have felt they can’t just leave that hanging in the air. There has to be a response. If you look at the history of the intelligent design movement, which is now only 15 or 16 years old, you will see that it was a direct response to claims coming from people like Dawkins. They could not leave this claim unchallenged — that evolution alone can explain all of life’s complexity. It sounded like a godless outcome.

If only those godless atheists and agnostics and secular humanists would shut up, and allow the Christians to profess that god guided all of evolution, that there is no chance, that we are created by Jesus, Intelligent Design would disappear.

It’s true. It would be because we’d all be creationists.


Now Norbizness gets into the act. Collins is toast.

So does Amanda.

Comments

  1. #1 BlueIndependent
    August 7, 2006

    No offense PZ, but I saw that last night, and then started counting…5…4…3…2…

    =)

  2. #2 Byron
    August 7, 2006

    There’s also this contradiction. First he says,

    But God is not so limited. What appears random to us — such as an asteroid hitting the earth — need not have been random to Him at all. And in that very moment of creation, being as He is, outside of the time limitations, he knew everything, including our having this conversation.

    But then when asked “Is this to say that God set in motion the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs so that human beings could eventually evolve?” he replies:

    Oh goodness, that’s getting into more specific details than I would dare to imagine. But I would say that God had a plan for creatures like us. Need they have looked exactly like us? …. In which case perhaps it didn’t matter so much whether that ended up occurring in mammals or some other life form.

    Which, of course, contradicts the idea that God knew even the details of the conversation two mammals, humans even, would be having billions of years after God began the universe.

  3. #3 quork
    August 7, 2006

    If you look at the history of the intelligent design movement, which is now only 15 or 16 years old, you will see that it was a direct response to claims coming from people like Dawkins.

    Oh really? So Edwards v. Aguillard had nothing to do with it?

  4. #4 quork
    August 7, 2006

    But I would say that God had a plan for creatures like us. Need they have looked exactly like us?

    Gen 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…

    Collins has committed blasphemy!

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    August 7, 2006

    Not a thing. It’s all us damned atheists pushing people into creationism.

  6. #6 Keith Douglas
    August 7, 2006

    He seems (as usual) to misunderstand both probabilistic reasoning – P(A|A) = 1 (duh) and the big bang. As usual.

    Incidentally, I just finished reading a slightly more sophisticated work from many years ago that alas also comes to similar conclusions. Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge. He makes all kinds of useful remarks (for instance, the central thesis of much of the book is the tacit nature of a lot of knowledge, a very important point), and we can debate his stuff about what he considers objectivity. But when it comes to biology and the place of humans in the natural world … yikes. He seems to somehow think that mind-body dualism evolved somehow. Moreover, he claims, quite openly, that humans are clearly the summit of creation, and their existence (due to their ability to be teleological) itself demonstrates a telos in the world. Depressing, from someone who is otherwise quite a responsible and clever thinker. (I guess he’s an example of a scientist on holiday, to use Bunge’s phrase.)

  7. #7 Steve LaBonne
    August 7, 2006

    If Polanyi was on holiday, Collins must be on a year-long Himalayan trek…

    P.S. Other than the cringe-making dualism I also have long admired Personal Knowledge. Glad to see it’s still read.

  8. #8 George
    August 7, 2006

    Dear Mr. Collins:

    Umm, “God” is inside your head; therefore, “he” is not outside the natural world. In fact, you made him up! Gee, there he is when you go to church (oh so comforting to think about), then he’s gone when you think about what you are going to have for dinner, then he’s back again when you go hiking in the Cascades. Gee, he can go everywhere!

    The “miraculous could have a non-zero probability.” Oooooh, very clever. Impressive. Did you make that up yourself?

    Congratulations. You sound just like every other wing nut on the planet. Stop. Embarrassing. Yourself.

  9. #9 Dianne
    August 7, 2006

    The resurrection of a dead person — no matter how special — is not possible

    I beg your pardon? It’s not just possible, it’s relatively routine. I’ve done it myself. All it requires is that the person not have been dead for very long (and not be brain dead yet), have died of one of a few specific problems, the right equipment, and very good luck. Reviving someone after they’ve been dead three days, now…that’s impossible so far as I know…with current technology.

  10. #10 Ginger Yellow
    August 7, 2006

    “This is unconvincing apologetics that will only be persuasive to those who have already accepted the silly dogma of a triune god. ”

    Well according to everybody’s favourite cosmological IDist, David Heddle, all apologetics will only be persuasive to those who have already accepted the silly dogma of a triune god. Which makes me wonder why they bother at all.

  11. #11 Dianne
    August 7, 2006

    Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginably bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point.

    If I understand correctly (and I may not…I’m not a physicist), this is also wrong. The universe was infinitely dense before the Big Bang, but not, necessarily, compacted down to a single point because it is also infinitely large and infinity/infinity=anything. And why does he assume that the energy released was in the visible spectrum (ie a “bright flash”)?

  12. #12 Sastra
    August 7, 2006

    Again, that would be the perspective if one had decided upfront that the only worldview that can be brought to bear on any circumstance is the scientific one. In that situation, all miracles have to be impossible. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to accept the spiritual worldview, then in certain rare circumstances — I don’t think they should be common — the miraculous could have a non-zero probability.

    When using the scientific “worldview,” miracles are not and have never been ruled “impossible” up front. They are simply provisionally dismissed as unlikely because that is where the evidence happened to lead. It could have gone in the opposite direction. The scientific worldview is one which tries to be as cautious, objective, tentative — and honest — as possible.

    However, it seems to me that if you’re willing to accept the spiritual worldview, then rules are out and anything goes. I find it interesting that Collins here points out that he “doesn’t think” that miracles should be “common.” Given an enchanted world of unexpected magic, whether miracles are rare or as plentiful as blackberries is now strictly a matter of taste. Draw the line where you will.

    I hate the “heads we win, tails doesn’t count” science-religion approach of modern apologetics. Science can’t say anything about God one way or another — unless it’s in the way of being support, of course.

  13. #13 Shygetz
    August 7, 2006

    Actually, if I remember my long-ago undergrad education about the Big Bang correctly, we don’t know what it was originally like. The equations of relativity cease to be useful once the curvature of space-time increases beyond a certain point (i.e. once the universe is smaller than a certain size), so we cannot say what happened before a certain point after the Big Bang (I think it’s something like before 10^-30 second, but don’t quote me). I think this is one of the big driving forces behind research into quantum gravity.

    Now, someone who actually knows something about this subject should come along and tell me exactly how wrong I am…

  14. #14 windy
    August 7, 2006

    And why does he assume that the energy released was in the visible spectrum (ie a “bright flash”)?

    Must be because of “Let there be light”…

  15. #15 quork
    August 7, 2006

    I became an atheist because as a graduate student studying quantum physics, life seemed to be reducible to second-order differential equations. Mathematics, chemistry and physics had it all. And I didn’t see any need to go beyond that. Frankly, I was at a point in my young life where it was convenient for me to not have to deal with a God. I kind of liked being in charge myself.

    Let’s go back a bit further. It seems to be unspoken but implied here that Collins was raised Christian. It is only those decades of brainwashing that created in him a mental state whereby he could have such a profound reaction to viewing a natural watercourse. I think it would be more appropriate to say that he was a ‘lapsed Christian’ than an atheist.

  16. #16 David Mazel
    August 7, 2006

    Collins writes that when he experienced his epiphany “it was a great sense of relief.” The Christian conversion experience in a nutshell: If it feels good, believe it.

  17. #17 Silmarillion
    August 7, 2006

    Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginably bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. That implies that … I can’t imagine how … And that implies that … And it seems to me … And that sounds like God.

    Irrefutable evidence there. I can’t imagine how anyone else isn’t convinced.

  18. #18 quork
    August 7, 2006

    What do you say to those evolutionists — people like E.O. Wilson and Dan Dennett — who look to evolutionary reasons for why human beings have come to believe in religion. They say religion is clearly a very powerful bonding force. It unites people. And even moral values like altruism have a genetic component. It may have evolved to help people related to you because there’s a shared genetic interest.
    .
    I have trouble with the argument that altruism can be completely explained on evolutionary grounds. Evolutionists now universally agree — I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree — that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. If that’s the case, then it does seem that in any given circumstance, the individual’s evolutionary drive should be to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs. They’re simply — as Dawkins has described them — a way of propagating DNA. That’s what we are. But that’s not what I see in my own heart. And it’s not what I see in those around me. I see Oskar Schindler, who sacrifices his own potential for long- term survival by saving Jews — not even people of his own faith. When I see Mother Teresa dedicating herself to help others, not even of her own tribe, we admire that. What is that all about? If I’m walking down the banks of a river and I hear someone who’s drowning calling for help — even if I’m not a good swimmer — I feel this urge that I should try to help, even at the risk of my own life. Where is that coming from?

    Can Collins really be that uneducated about research into kin selection and such? If, as Collins channels C.S. Lewis, there is a universal moral sense, then why is so much of public discourse spent in arguing about morality?

    BTW, E.O. Wilson has said recently that he is going to advocate for a comeback of some form of group selection.

  19. #19 Chuck
    August 7, 2006

    The resurrection of a dead person — no matter how special — is not possible
    I beg your pardon? It’s not just possible, it’s relatively routine.

    If death is defined as the “irreversible cessation of function,” resurrection is indeed impossible. All of the ACLS protocols in the world won’t bring the truly dead back — because if they are revived, they weren’t dead in the first place.

  20. #20 David Mazel
    August 7, 2006

    Oh yeah–note that Collins goes hiking among beautiful mountains on an autumn day, and accepts the love of the Christian God. Surely such a good and glorious scene could only have been created by a good and glorious God!

    But what if had he had chanced to kneel down by the side of the trail and observed a female praying mantis clamly chewing the head off her male mate while while the poor thing continued to copulate with her? And what if instead of going home and reading his Bible he had gone home and read some of the horrific passages from Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex? Would he have then assigned a somewhat different meaning to the creation?

  21. #21 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    As soon as I saw the Salon interview, I figured a Pharyngula post would follow shortly. Collins is entitled to his beliefs, but I have to file his justifications under “Even smart people believe some of the darnedest things.” (along with somebody like Kary Mullis, say). I’m familiar enough with all of Collins’s reasons for believing that I doubt anything he could tell me would suddenly give me a new insight.

    First off, _Mere Christianity_. I eventually got around to reading it some years back. I am not prepared to rebut it, but the outlook was familiar to me from having read some of Lewis’s other work when I was fairly religious. (Actually, when I think of C.S. Lewis, what comes to mind first is a scene in a Philip K. Dick novel where one character is exasperated by another’s tendency to begin statements with ‘C.S. Lewis would say…’. And in some ways, I have to say that PKD inspires me to greater spiritual fervor than Lewis ever could; Lewis is just so frickin’ bourgeois; it’s easy to think you know all the answers when you’re an Oxford don).

    Second, that revelation while hiking. If I had a dime for every spiritual moment in my life… well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could probably get a nice bottle of cabernet. One I remember quite vividly was in Switzerland sitting through a Catholic mass in German, a language I do not know, drifting off into a revery and suddenly bolting to alertness at the consecration, when the priest said “Das ist mein Leib.” It was really as if I’d experienced a repetition of the pentecost and somehow been awakened for the holiest moment of the mass. But… OK… let’s look at the evidence. I had studied a little German, and been exposed to the word “Leib” meaning “body.” the phrase “Das ist mein” is close enough to English that I could guess what he was saying. I also knew the basic pattern of the Catholic mass by heart and it is the same in every language. But it *felt* like God’s presence at the time. That doesn’t make it real.

    Third, Collins bases his belief on people just being much better morally than evolution would lead him to expect. It sort of reminds me of that song, Simon Smith and his Dancing Bear: “it’s just amazing how fair people can be.” I wish! People are sort of altruistic and definitely empathetic. You see somebody drowning and you want to save them. But you can’t swim… so most likely you don’t try, and that’s probably a good decision. You feel terrible for the rest of your life, but you also have to go on living and devote a lot of effort to solacing yourself that after all, you did not know how to swim. That’s about the extent of human empathy. Or worse: people can react like the onlookers in the Kitty Genevieve case. Maybe they want to help, who knows? But they could have easily called the cops and they didn’t.

    Human cooperation is entirely consistent with people adapting tendencies for individual success. People are most successful when they build on the social network of other humans; thus, pure selfishness is a maladaptive tendency. Even criminals do better in gangs than as loners. I would also ask how much morality is even innate, and how much is entirely a product of social conditioning. People believe plenty of maladaptive things just because they were told them during their formative years. Nature and nurture are both very powerful forces in shaping human behavior, and there is no reason to assume all human behavior is explained by evolution.

    Finally… even if you buy all of Collins’s arguments, how exactly does that lead you to Christianity rather than some other religion? I am sympathetic to the tendencies that make people want to believe in religion. Even as a believing Catholic schoolboy I never had any problem reconciling evolution with religion. I agree with Collins that if there was a God and he had a plan, then evolution would be a perfectly reasonable way to implement it. But what makes me doubt my religious belief is that so many otherwise smart and sensible people around the world have believed very different things. Except for some shared notions of virtue, they cannot all be right. I reject the chauvinist conclusion that my religion is right. It could be, but then I guess I would just be very lucky to have been born into it. The most likely conclusion seems to me to be that most of it is wrong.

  22. #22 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    Collins said Evolutionists now universally agree — I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree — that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. If that’s the case, then it does seem that in any given circumstance, the individual’s evolutionary drive should be to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs.

    I find it mind-boggling that the person heading the human genome initiative should be so ignorant of elementary biology. Evolution does not act on the species, but it dsoes not act on the inidividual either. it acts ont he gene. Perhaps instead of libelling Dawkins, he might go out and read The Selfish Gene instead.

  23. #23 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    Let me try that again.

    Collins said

    Evolutionists now universally agree — I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree — that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. If that’s the case, then it does seem that in any given circumstance, the individual’s evolutionary drive should be to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs.

    I find it mind-boggling that the person heading the human genome initiative should be so ignorant of elementary biology and modern population genetics. Evolution does not act on the species, but it does not act on the individual either. It acts on the gene. Perhaps instead of libelling Dawkins, he might read The Selfish Gene instead?

    Another case on an M.D. who got propelled into research while missing out on important parts of a normal scientific training?

  24. #24 Ken
    August 7, 2006

    One of the things that should be asked of every scientist who supports religion: is the bible inerrant? If they say no the fundamentalists will run from them. If they say yes, then scientists will run from them. Have any scientists attempted to claim that their discipline can co-exist with an inerrant biblical viewpoint?

  25. #25 Lago
    August 7, 2006

    First I just need to say, “C.S.Lewis was a spaz…”

    I’ve met a lot of scientists like this. They can be quite rational in a lab, but when they get out into the real world, they somehow think they are owed some-type of irrational bounty, where you now must allow them to speculate as they wish. It borders on the Ol’ Fashion, “Call to Authority.”

    I had this one teacher who was a big fan of James Randi, and, at the same time, was a Born Again Christian. Now, if she had been one of deep faith, where she said she listened to her heart, (or whatever other organ of interest she cared to listen to), and decided, despite the evidence to the contrary, that Christ was indeed Lord, I’d been fine with that, but she basically claimed it was silly for a person not to accept Christ as Lord as if “How could anyone do anything else?”

    Again, if one asked her about why she believed as she did, she’d come out with nothing resembling evidence, but again, just personal anecdotes. How she could follow the logical methodology of James Randi on the one hand, be a scientist (a published one mind you) and think, “Personal anecdotes = hard evidence?”, I will never know.

    I just like to think about an ex-girlfriend of mine whose sister, was a Born Again Christian, called Psychic Hotlines on a regular basis for advice, believed aliens had abducted her and taken her unborn baby, as well as believed in ghosts. This woman saw me reading a book on evolutionary biology one day and asked, “How can you believe in that stuff?” In short, when people have the desire to believe, or not to believe, evidence means nothing…

  26. #26 Lago
    August 7, 2006

    Oh, and also, I’d just like to add myself to the list of people horrified to see a man in Collin’s position who has spouted:

    [quote] Evolutionists now universally agree — I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree — that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. If that’s the case, then it does seem that in any given circumstance, the individual’s evolutionary drive should be to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs. [/quote]

    The Horror…The Horror!

    Wait, [i]let me rewrite that..[/i]

    The dipsh*t…The dipsh&t!

  27. #27 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    Ken, I would make a distinction between biblical literalism and biblical inerrancy, although I think its also clear that Collins advocates neither view.

    It’s clear to me that a science who tries to take the bible literally is going to have trouble working outside of a highly circumscribed sandbox–but even somebody like that could contribute to science, for instance, if they stuck to designing lab equipment (I’m thinking of somebody like Forest Mims).

    The notion of biblical inerrancy is (at least in my understanding as a former Catholic) that the Bible is the word of God, not the work of human authors, and says exactly what God intended for it to say (amazingly, despite the different source texts and translations). That makes it significant and sacred, but does not require it to be a historical document or a science textbook. Human teachers use allegory, so why shouldn’t God? I was raised to think of the Bible this way, and I don’t see why it is considered such a copout position, both among atheists and fundamentalists. I mean, there is very little written by even the best human author that was intended to be taken literally in its entirety. Metaphor is part of language.

    I would say that it’s not such a big deal for a scientist to believe in biblical inerrancy as above. I think the main problem for a scientist is not what to believe but how to make sure that you don’t let your non-scientific beliefs slip into your scientific output.

  28. #28 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    I’ve met a lot of scientists like this. They can be quite rational in a lab, but when they get out into the real world, they somehow think they are owed some-type of irrational bounty, where you now must allow them to speculate as they wish. It borders on the Ol’ Fashion, “Call to Authority.”

    But it’s worse that that. Collins’ argument for religion is based at least partly on false concepts about an area of science that directly impacts his own research area. How can he possibly, as a geneticist, believe that the primary unit of selection is the individual? How can he assert that evolution cannot account for altruism? Is he entirely ignorant of the last 40 years of research in population genetics?

    Moreover, if evolution does not account for altruism, how does he reconcile that with his ‘BioLogos’ idea that God set the whole shebang moving and then stood back? Altruism either arose by natural, which means evolutionary means, or it was placed in humans supernaturally. One or the other.

  29. #29 Harmless Fundie
    August 7, 2006

    That’s been a very scary statement coming back towards the religious community, where people have felt they can’t just leave that hanging in the air. There has to be a response. If you look at the history of the intelligent design movement, which is now only 15 or 16 years old, you will see that it was a direct response to claims coming from people like Dawkins. They could not leave this claim unchallenged — that evolution alone can explain all of life’s complexity. It sounded like a godless outcome.

    Oh, no! A godless outcome?!?!? Someone call Focus on the Family so can fix this horrible problem. Can we get a gay bigot millionaire to donate a bunch of cash to start a “think tank” so we can spew propaganda in response? And we’ll need some attorneys, too.

  30. #30 Steve LaBonne
    August 7, 2006

    Busy scientists rarely know much about areas of science outside their professional purview. Collins’s ignorance of population genetics is not very surprising. I believe he’s also an M.D., and if there’s any area of professional training that unfits one more than medicine does to think in population terms it would be difficult to name it. What I can fault him for is not having the sense to shut up about things he knows nothing about; many scientists are more sensible about that. But then, those are the usually the ones who don’t have ideological axes to grind.

  31. #31 NickM
    August 7, 2006

    I recently bought the book God? by William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. It’s a debate between a Christian and an atheist, with each side allowed to respond to the other’s points. Craig raises some of the same arguments as Collins, which struck me as some of the best arguments a theist can make; but Sinnott-Armstrong takes him apart in detail. It’s a pretty good read.

  32. #32 quork
    August 7, 2006

    I had this one teacher who was a big fan of James Randi, and, at the same time, was a Born Again Christian.

    Boy have I got a book for her. The Fakers by Danny Korem explains how psychics, dowsers, etc. are all frauds, and how fakers like that detract attention from the real magic of God.

    It’s a hoot.

  33. #33 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    August 7, 2006

    PZ, Collins was on Talk of the Nation Science Friday last week.

    And FYI If I saw a large three part frozen waterfall I wouldn’t be falling to me knees to accept some fable, I’d be strapping on my crampons and grabbing my ice axes.

  34. #34 Dianne
    August 7, 2006

    All of the ACLS protocols in the world won’t bring the truly dead back — because if they are revived, they weren’t dead in the first place.

    True, and one of the reasons that “death” is now defined as “brain death” not cessation of heartbeat, breathing, etc. But the only way you can tell whether ACLS will work or not is to try it so the statement that you can’t bring a truly dead person back with ACLS and you know that they’re truly dead because ACLS doesn’t work is unsatisfying. You can certainly get some clinically apparently dead people back.

  35. #35 Andrew Mogendorff
    August 7, 2006

    You guys might be interested to know that the documentary “30 Days” on the FX channel this week features an atheist living with a committed (ahem) Christian family for a month. The show was created by Morgan Spurlock who wrote “Supersize Me”.

  36. #36 roger
    August 7, 2006

    Maybe some scientists here would like post a comment at this DEMENTED FUCKWITS blog:

    http://www.worldmagblog.com/blog/archives/025847.html

    Chuck Colson writes, “The headline was positively gleeful. On the website of the left-wing group DefCon this week, we read: ‘Science Wins the Day in Kansas.’ In fact, just the opposite happened. Science lost in Kansas to zealots who want to keep kids in the dark about the scientific controversy over evolution. In last week’s school board primary election in Kansas, two conservatives who support teaching the evidence both for and against evolution lost to candidates who oppose such teaching. These losses mean Kansas will now have an anti-science majority: members who want to slam the door on free academic inquiry.”

  37. #37 Alexander Vargas
    August 7, 2006

    Well, Collins to me illustrates several things:
    1) That the false equivalence reductionism=science truly turns well-educated scientists onto ID.
    2) That sequencing the human genome is useful data for everyone, but truly, it does not require a scientific motivation, not even clear ideas about what science is. It is quite plainly a merely technical achievement, which at Collin’s position meant basically lots of talking on the phone (money & politics)
    3) Did Collins say that about ID being a response to Dawkins claims? Well, yeah! Dawkins, by peddling of an absurdly reductionist and ultradarwinian view of evolution, and unnecesarily entagling evolution with the whole darn “God” issue, has fed ID, youbetcha.

  38. #38 Molly, NYC
    August 7, 2006

    I didn’t bother to read it. Much I respect Collins, someone talking about the specifics of their religious views with the assumption that it’ll be meaningful to the reader/listener is about as enlightening or entertaining as someone insisting that you hear about this really cool dream they had.

  39. #39 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    Dawkins, by peddling of an absurdly reductionist and ultradarwinian view of evolution

    Do feel free to explain what you mean by ‘an absurdly reductionist and ultradarwinian view of evolution’.

  40. #40 natural cynic
    August 7, 2006

    For fans of cognitive dissonance, read Mere Christianity along with another golden oldie — Bertrand Russel’s Why I Am Not a Christian.

  41. #41 arithmoquine
    August 7, 2006

    After reading the interview I was struck by his ignorance almost as much as his incoherence. For example, in discussing embryonic stem cell research and the disposition of embryos frozen in fertility clinics, he claims: “Is it more ethical to leave them in those freezers forever or throw them away? Or is it more ethical to come up with some sort of use for those embryos that could help people? I think that’s not been widely discussed.” I don’t see how anyone with even a passing interest in this issue could not have noticed that this is one of the most discussed aspects of the issue–especially by proponents of embryonic stem cell research. This observation suggests to me that his sources (if he has them) of information on this issue all oppose such research.

    One inconsistency in Collins’s interview that has been overlooked so far is that he rejects the God-the-gaps argument used by Creationists and IDers but then uses a God-in-the-gaps argument to explain the existence of altruism. He presents Lewis’s moral law argument, claiming that evolution cannot explain our knowledge of moral right and wrong, and, hence, God must exist to have implanted this knowledge into us. Altruism requiring a theistic explanation is a textbook case of the God-in-the-gaps argument. (And in this case it is a fallacious appeal to ignorance as well.)

    I’m not quite sure that it’s fair to say that he uses scientific evidence for his view but forbids scientific evidence when it is used against his view. He may have in mind some concept of nonscientific evidence. Moral philosophers, for example, cannot use exclusively scientific evidence for their conclusions (given Hume’s famous “is-ought” gap), but they still manage to reason about morality. If he does have some other conception of evidence, however, he needs to explain what it is, what its standards of use are and why anyone should accept it.

  42. #42 Scott Hatfield
    August 7, 2006

    Just a few quibbles. ‘Apologetics’ proper typically does not invoke personal experience, but attempts to defend belief by appeal to reason. So, I wouldn’t characterize Collins’ waterfall anecdote as apologetics per se; I’m sure all of us would agree that it certainly is not a scientific observation.

    Similarly, referencing data about the natural world (such as the ‘Big Bang’) and using them as arguments for God’s existence is definitely apologetics, not science. It is not the tools of science that are being used here, but the product of science.

    Therefore I don’t see the inconsistency or hypocrisy that some of you folk do. Rather, I see a certain inconsistency in regarding all claims from believers as scientifically hopeless, then complaining when they use data from the natural world to support their claims. We’re not entitled to that complaint. Believers are not obligated to restrict themselves to arguments from experience simply because science attempts (properly, I think) to excludes such views. If the claim itself is scientifically hopeless, then the source of data they enlist to support the claim should be irrelevant.

    A more defensible critique of Collins’ position, it seems to me, would focus on these points, some of which have been made here:

    1) The demonstration of the singular origin and anthropic character of the universe seems to be robust, but these conclusions are consistent with any number of belief systems, including those without any sort of deity;

    2) That the above is necessary, but not sufficient for the notion of a personal God;

    3) To move to the personal God, Collins uses arguments about the moral sense that betray a lack of familiarity with evolutionary theory–there really are very good naturalistic research programs to account for consciousness, altruism, morality, etc.;

    4) With the moral sense aroused and evolution invoked, the problem of theodicy is as acute for Collins as for any believer, including myself;

    5) To identify the alleged personal God with the person of Jesus, Collins uses an argument from C.S. Lewis (the so-called ‘trichotomy’) that is fallacious: it does not follow that the Christ MUST be either liar, lunatic or Lord, as other possibilities exist;

    5) Ultimately, Collins’ appeals to arguments from personal experience which have no standing in science.

    Those seem to be sound counter-arguments to me; posturing about what sort of arguments the ‘other side’ is allowed to use, or whether they are being hypocritical implies a level of agreement about the nature of science that doesn’t exist in the popular culture as far as I can see, and these kinds of arguments are easily side-stepped.

    It’s unfortunate that this book is being misrepresented as constituting something like scientific evidence for Christianity, when it’s nothing of the kind, but a cogent discussion of his book should focus on why his arguments aren’t compelling in general, than on whether or not he is speaking as a scientist, or no. Let’s not make the mistake of trying Dr. Collins as an apostate to our understanding of scientific method, as if science were just another belief system. Let’s evaluate his claims as such, and leave it at that.

    A few more comments:

    PaulC, regarding the discussion of ‘literalism’ vs. ‘inerrancy’, most of the fundamentalists have an ‘out’ clause wherein they add “in the original manuscripts” to the claim that the Bible has no factual errors. Since no original manuscripts are known to exist, and since demonstrating conclusively that any given scroll/tablet is THE original text is problematic, this approaches non-testability.

    I might add that there are other positions out there that honor the text, but which do not feel obliged to idolize it.

    Gerard Harbison, regarding the unit of selection: I accept that evolutionary theory in principle accounts for the general existence of altruism, and that ignorance of same is a strong argument against Collins’ invocation of the moral sense. I do NOT think, however, that this argument turns on whether the unit of selection is the population, the individual or the gene. I also think it is sensible to be agnostic about the relative importance of this or that level of selection as a general principle; even Richard Dawkins rather famously ‘rediscovered the organism’ and the possibility of pluralism as to the unit of selection can not yet be discounted.

    Cheers…Scott

  43. #43 Rosewater
    August 7, 2006

    Collins, as do most people who “find faith,” uses a classic “conversion narrative.” These narratives are often used by the converted to demonstrate the “power” of the conversion moment (note that is must be reduced to a moment). In discussion with many people who have converted this narrative form is almost always found. As with dream narratives, conversion narratives are re-analzyed events that conform to a specific narrative schema. They circulate because they give evidence to certain underlying assumptions that many Christians have (namely the momentaneous nature of conversion and that each is unique/individual [of course that they are a stock storylines is outside of the question]). But of course, like the telling of dreams, it is post factum evidence and has been re-analyzed to fit a particular narrative structure. This is not evidence of “God(s),” it is evidence of the power of narrative structures to frame our understandings of the world.

  44. #44 Corkscrew
    August 7, 2006

    I was raised to think of the Bible this way, and I don’t see why it is considered such a copout position, both among atheists and fundamentalists. I mean, there is very little written by even the best human author that was intended to be taken literally in its entirety.

    The problem is that, once you start accepting that some bits are metaphor, there’s no dividing line that’s clear enough to stop it being used as a catch-all for daft errors. Jericho destroyed centuries before the Israelites got there? God was just using it as a parable to explore the value of faith in Him. Two contradictory genealogies for Jesus? Well, y’see, God was just trying to make the point…

  45. #45 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    Vargas:

    Dawkins, by peddling of an absurdly reductionist and ultradarwinian view of evolution, and unnecesarily entagling evolution with the whole darn “God” issue, has fed ID, youbetcha.

    Who do you think has been more helpful to the ID movement, Richard “Religion is Stupid” Dawkins or George “Jesus is My Favorite Philosopher” Bush?

    There is “feeding ID” and then there is “feeding ID.” When a scientist like Dawkins says that he finds religion worthless at best and explains why, he is only “feeding ID” to the extent that ID is a religious movement which will use ANY statement of non-Christian opinion as “evidence” that the gay materialists are comin’ to ruin the country.

    As for Dawkins’ “absurdly reductionist and ultradarwinian view of evolution,” that is a scientific question and, since the ID movement religion-driven, wholly anti-scientific and devoid of scientific content, the idea that Dawkin’s scientific views “feed ID” any more than someone else’s scientific ideas is pure bullcrap.

    So Vargas, what was your point?

  46. #46 Dan
    August 7, 2006

    First of all, we have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginably bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. That implies that before that, there was nothing.

    Even if Collins’s description of the Big Bang were accurate, his conclusion is nonsense. No, it doesn’t imply that there was “nothing” before the Big Bang. An infintesimally small point containing all the matter in the universe is, by definition, something.

    The logical conclusion is, of course, a “God of the Gaps” argument. “We don’t know what happened before the Big Bang, therefore GODDIDIT.”

  47. #47 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    Corkscrew: I would identify your problem as the text itself not standing up no matter how you try to read it, rather than some intrinsic problem with assuming that it is allegorical.

    For instance, no matter what you think of the historical accuracy of the Bible, it is hard to get around the fact that parts of it advocate wiping out the original inhabitants of the land you want to take. You can say “Well, in that case it was OK because God told them to” but then how are you supposed to know for sure? For that matter, you have the Old Testament telling you that pigs and lobsters are “abominations.” It’s obviously a huge thing, and then this is just sort of conveniently brushed aside in New Testament epistles to non-Jews, and now we’re allowed to eat pork and lobster. This can be read as some kind of deep moral fable, but it all seems a bit incoherent and driven more by circumstances than a coherent set of principles.

    Now, by contrast, you could take Adam Smith’s famous example of the pin factory.

    But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.

    I’ve always assumed that Smith’s description of the pin factory is very accurate, but even if he had got some details wrong, he would have made the same point about division of labor. Nobody is going to observe that Smith missed some crucial economy of scale driving pin manufacture and use this point to debunk the whole of _Wealth of Nations_.

    Later economists often speak of fictional goods such as “widgets” or grossly simplified economies (Krugman’s hot dog and bun economy in one popularization). They also make valid points. They also get some things wrong. If an omniscient God wrote a divine work of economics, then it wouldn’t get anything wrong (except intentionally). But that doesn’t mean it would have no simplifications and no metaphorical language. It would have to be a readable text at an appropriate level of abstraction. The effort of getting every detail precisely right or adding a footnote to every simplification or potentially ambiguous phrase would likely make it inaccessible to most readers.

    I submit that nobody considers it a copout when discussing human authors to say “This was merely an illustrative example.” Often a confused reader who started out taking it literally will say “Oh, now it makes sense. When I reread it, this is obvious.”

    So I don’t think it is a copout to read the Bible this way. However, reading something as metaphorical does not mean that everything is magically justified. In fact, the Bible is so apparently contradictory that numerous commentaries have been written to massage the principles into more palatable forms for various audiences at different historical periods. But the chief failing here is not the tendency to allow for some metaphorical but the fact that the text itself fails.

    If anything, an allegorical interpretation is more likely to leave some wiggle room. I have no idea how you can start with assumptions of literal truth and get very far.

  48. #48 Alexander Vargas
    August 7, 2006

    Isn’t it obvious? When you say crap like “genes created us, body and mind” or “we are but lumbering robots controlled by genes” and then label that crap the “evolutionary science” that “leads to atheism” you are setting it up pretty nicely for people to get confused into a role for god ins cience. If Bush wants to say that Jesus is his favorite philosopher, there is no bad mix there. He is not implying by that that science is crap. It is Dawkins, who wrongly uses evolution to say all religion is crap, that plunges evolution into the silly G debate that is truly none of its business

  49. #49 PZ Myers
    August 7, 2006

    Vargas, I strongly urge you to take a break from this blog. In fact, you should take a vacation in the Washington Cascades. Take a hike. Look at some waterfalls.

  50. #50 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    It reads like highfalutin’ apologetics (“My God is bigger than that.”) with a special condemning of athiests. “I think many of the current battles between atheists and fundamentalists have really been started by the scientific community. This is an enormous tragedy of our present time, that we’ve given the stage to the extremists.” As often said that calling the atheist position religious or extremist is like calling bald a hair color or an intense hair color.

    But I’m especially disappointed that a PhD in physics plays as fast and loose with his physics. He uses all the usual cosmological and teleological arguments, but he also invokes the anthropic principle in a meaningless manner. In his case he doesn’t claim more than the weak principle, but that doesn’t imply any teleology. That there are life makes the fact that the laws and parameters of nature permits life really unsurprising.

    His description of bigbang is a little off. It happened 13.7 billion years ago, and the assumption of a singularity can’t be verified without a theory of quantum gravity.

    But where he really screws up is when he both allow for physics and teleology:

    “Are you saying that God set the natural laws in motion so that somehow, billions of years later, humans would evolve? There was intent, there was purpose to humans evolving, and God made it so?

    “That is part of my faith — to believe that God did have an interest in the appearance, somewhere in the universe, of creatures with intelligence, with free will, with the Moral Law, with the desire to seek Him.””

    This combination gives a very peculiar idea of nature. Quantum mechanics has a fundamental randomness that even gods can’t fully control within the bounds of formal theory. It has to have no hidden variables to remain a local theory compatible with causality through lorentz invariance. The only way to resolve that contradiction between hidden mechanisms and locality is to have the unneccessary assumption of a supernatural being simultaneously run the whole show. The Cosmic Cheater strikes again! But what was Collins saying about some Mighty Moral Law?

  51. #51 Koray
    August 7, 2006

    I mean, there is very little written by even the best human author that was intended to be taken literally in its entirety.
    That is true, but irrelevant. Who speaks to their subordinates, little children, etc. in a manner that can be misunderstood? Think of the translations (because ‘He’ obviously didn’t). It’s bloody murder.

    Is six days really six earth days, or something else? Who cares? We still don’t know the significance of six over five or eight, and we know a lot more about physics. Not only is using metaphores a bad idea, but also the subject choices are bizarre.

  52. #52 Steve_C
    August 7, 2006

    It gets old fast don’t it.

    Getting told we’re evil Dawkins lovers.

  53. #53 somnilista, FCD
    August 7, 2006

    His description of bigbang is a little off. It happened 13.7 billion years ago, and the assumption of a singularity can’t be verified without a theory of quantum gravity.

    The latest on space.com:
    Universe Might be Bigger and Older than Expected


    A research team led by Alceste Bonanos at the Carnegie Institution of Washington has found that the Triangulum Galaxy, also known as M33, is about 15 percent farther away from our own Milky Way than previously calculated.

    The new finding implies that the universe is instead about 15.8 billion years old and about 180 billion light-years wide.

  54. #54 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    Isn’t it obvious? When you say crap like “genes created us, body and mind” or “we are but lumbering robots controlled by genes” and then label that crap the “evolutionary science” that “leads to atheism” you are setting it up pretty nicely for people to get confused into a role for god ins cience.

    Hmm. So the failure to set aside a role for deities in the natural history of the earth leads “people” to “get confused into a role for god in science.”

    Perhaps, Vargas, it’s you and your “people” who are confused to begin with and maybe, for personal reasons, you prefer to stay that way. That would appear to be Collins’ “problem” as well.

  55. #55 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    Dianne:
    “The universe was infinitely dense before the Big Bang, but not, necessarily, compacted down to a single point because it is also infinitely large and infinity/infinity=anything.”

    If I understand correctly (and I may not…I’m not a cosmologist), without quantum gravity we can’t go to or beyond the planck scale, so talk about singularities are speculation at this point, albeit motivated speculation. The most parsimonous and universal assumption is an infinitely large universe and I believe that is consistent with the current Lambda-CDM model.

    The meaning of infinity differs between formal theories, for example on the real line you have two infinities that you tend to, +/- infinity, while you can topologically map a plane to a sphere and have a specific “point of infinity” for that model. So infinity/infinity isn’t welldefined, OTOH that doesn’t mean that it is anything within the theory.

    Alexander:
    Usually you don’t and can’t back up your claims. In this case you also “forget” to mention in claim 2) that huge endeavours such as WMAP or LHC have political dimensions that means some main positions “does not require a scientific motivation, not even clear ideas about what science is”.

    Dan:
    I’m not sure ideas such as Hawkings no-boundary proposal all have an initial singularity or prespace. Perhaps they employ a generalised quantum transition from literally nothing.

  56. #56 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    Collins

    The argument that gets me is the one I read in those first few pages of “Mere Christianity,” which is the existence of the Moral Law, something good and holy, that in our hearts has somehow written that same law about what is good and what is evil and what we should do. That doesn’t sound like a God that wandered off once the universe got started and is now doing something else. That sounds like a God who really cares about us and wishes somehow to have a relationship with us.

    Huh. Sounds to me like a British dude on some headtrip about how wonderful his personal brand of religion is.

    Maybe we should arrange for Collins to meet with Tom Cruise and compare notes. A real “meeting of the minds,” a la Steve Allen’s old TV show.

  57. #57 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    Koray: I agree with you that the Bible is problematic on a whole range of grounds.

    What I disagree with is the tendency of at least some atheists to side with fundamentalists on the view that a respectful non-literal reading of the Bible is a copout. I think, for instance, that Genesis has never borne out a literal reading because there are clearly two contradictory creation stories. It has little to do with any modern scientific developments. Traditionally, it has been read for its moral teachings, not for insights into animal husbandry or methods of weather prediction–topics of interest even to its ancient readers on which it touches but gives essentially no useful information. True, people might have insisted “It’s all true.” but I’m pretty sure it’s a modern tendency to go around backfitting scientific observations to the Bible the way creationists do.

    For example, Homer’s Odyssey doesn’t bear out a literal reading either even though it has been thought of at various times and by various peoples as a historical account and as a morally edifying tale. I’m of the view that it is neither, but it would be a terrible blow to our heritage to lose all trace of this great epic.

    If I say that about the Odyssey, people accept it. If I say it about the Bible, people get mad at me: fundies for comparing the Bible to Greek mythology; some atheists for suggesting that the Bible has any kind of redeeming value. I think this is sort of silly. It’s clear to me that the main point of the Bible is to capture the values of a people and a faith, not to tell you how nature works. Admittedly, some of it is intended to be a record of other information such as genealogies. It’s a hodge-podge of things, although science and mathematics are largely missing and what is there is almost entirely wrong. I don’t think it is a copout to eschew a literal interpretation, because this is in many ways the least plausible reading.

  58. #58 John McKay
    August 7, 2006

    How could he be sure the three parts of the waterfall didn’t refer to the mountain, the tree, and the midgit? This is the same as assuming every face on a pancake is Jesus or Mary. How can they be sure it isn’t Duane Allman or Veronica Lake?

  59. #59 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    somnilista:

    It is generally regarded that the number of 13.7 billion year for the universe is an extremely good and tight number. It includes combining several theories a huge number of observations. ( See for example http://cosmicvariance.com/2006/03/16/wmap-results-cosmology-makes-sense/ )

    The article reports a single observation by a new method that needs to be expanded and verified. It is not uncommon that such observations are modified later when the method is better understood.

    The article itself cites the wellregarded Lawrence Krauss giving caution: “Things fit right now very well for a Hubble constant of a low 70s,” Krauss said in a telephone interview. “It corresponds very well with the age of globular clusters as we’ve determined them and the age of the universe. It would be hard, although not impossible, to change things by 15 percent.” Not exactly an acclamation.

  60. #60 somnilista, FCD
    August 7, 2006

    Traditionally, it has been read for its moral teachings…
    I don’t think it is a copout to eschew a literal interpretation, because this is in many ways the least plausible reading.

    I think you’ve already acknowledged that the morality in the Bible is monstrous. We all agree that it is not a reliable source of scientific or historical fact. What’s left, literary merit? It’s a large anthology, and the literary merit is all over the map. There’s some decent stuff in the Old Testament, but there’s no good poetry or even prose in the New Testament at all.

    But this is beside the point. Collins actually believe that parts of the Bible are true. He picks and chooses which parts he believes. He believes in the virgin birth, the fulfillment of a prophecy that was never made. He believes in the resurrection of a dead person. How can one acknowledge the multitude of erros in the Bible and still selectively accept the most outrageous miracle stories as literal truth? This is a clear victory of desire over reason.

  61. #61 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    When you say crap like “genes created us, body and mind” or “we are but lumbering robots controlled by genes” and then label that crap the “evolutionary science” that “leads to atheism” you are setting it up pretty nicely for people to get confused into a role for god ins cience.

    So Vargas believes that something else influences the progress of embryogenesis aside from genes (and the uterine environment)?

    Please be specific: what, when, and how?

  62. #62 Koray
    August 7, 2006

    PaulC: I agree that it may be considered acceptable to give a message about, say, ethics or family, using metaphores, etc. I don’t insist that religious texts should be read literally.

    However, I find the practice dangerous. I am not a teacher, but I have seen weird interpretations of rather simple text before. Thus, I would first go for the literal meaning and be extremely careful about the alternatives. Although many may seem trivial and harmless, God’s word is a tautology that needs to be handled with kid gloves.

    Any portion of a text that needs interpretation can be thought of a place where you can invent your own subreligion (some assembly required). You could be stranded on an island in the pacific with a dozen people and the bible. Then the bible says what you think it says.

  63. #63 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    It’s clear to me that the main point of the Bible is to capture the values of a people and a faith

    No wonder so many Christian guys are misogynist anti-gay bigots.

  64. #64 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    GWW: Well, yes. You’re probably right. It actually does require some major spinning to get Christianity to line up with gay rights and feminism. I stand by my original statement. It’s a record of values (what my mythology teacher way back called a “sacred history”). You don’t have to agree with it. I don’t either. But it’s clear that it’s not a science textbook, and any reading that treats it as such is perverse.

  65. #65 Loren Petrich
    August 7, 2006

    Francis Collins seems like he’s doing Clinton-style “triangulating”, positioning himself between two extremes.

    But he doesn’t seem to have asked a lot of obvious questions — if one will be so much happier after one dies, then why not turn funerals into celebrations? And whoever makes their last words “See you in Heaven”?

    And had he ever read the Bible? Reading that book has been a spur to many deconversions.

    And what’s that bull doo-doo about him being his own master?

    Also, I’m not impressed by his fine-tuning argument, since despite that alleged fine tuning, there is a heck of a lot of Universe just plain gone to waste, if it was all designed for our benefit.

    And has he shown us the calculations of how if one fundamental physical constant was only 10^-6 or 10^-12 off, the resulting Universe would be uninhabitable?

  66. #66 Sastra
    August 7, 2006

    Alexander Vargas wrote:

    Isn’t it obvious? When you say crap like “genes created us, body and mind” or “we are but lumbering robots controlled by genes” and then label that crap the “evolutionary science” that “leads to atheism” you are setting it up pretty nicely for people to get confused into a role for god ins cience.

    In other words, you’re pointing out that Collins set himself up a straw-man view of atheism, deliberately using the clumsiest forms of greedy reductionism and bad metaphors to characterize the nasty “consequences” of naturalism. In which case, I agree. Dennett, Dawkins, and other natural philosophers address and refute this brutal form of reductionism all the time, but the other side apparently prefers to ignore them in order to attack an easy target. That way they can save the day by swooping in with a simplistic but soothing alternative.

    If Bush wants to say that Jesus is his favorite philosopher, there is no bad mix there. He is not implying by that that science is crap.

    But he IS implying that Jesus was a philosopher, which seems to me a major stretch. The gospels don’t show him examining or exploring difficult questions through the use of reason, nor does he encourage it. Jesus just tells people stuff. A college graduate using this as an example of “philosophy” is troubling. My recollection too is that Bush was actually asked who his favorite *political* philosopher was, in which case his selection is even more ominous.

    It is Dawkins, who wrongly uses evolution to say all religion is crap, that plunges evolution into the silly G debate that is truly none of its business.

    Dawkins approaches the existence of God and divine creation as if they were scientific hypotheses, and he then explains how their basic assumptions are inconsistent with observations and discoveries. Which is to say, he takes God seriously.

    But most people take *belief in* God more seriously, and so protect it from this kind of scrutiny by insisting that science has no business saying anything about God’s existence. It can apparently be used to explain how God has left His mark on what He has done, however.

  67. #67 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    And has he shown us the calculations of how if one fundamental physical constant was only 10^-6 or 10^-12 off, the resulting Universe would be uninhabitable?

    I’ve always taken their word for this, but now I think of it, I can’t see why, say, a 0.1% error in Planck’s constant would radically change the universe. And the Boltzmann’s constant is really just the proportionality factor connecting temperature and energy; I can’t see why the universe wouldn’t withstand a small change in that. Speed of light, ditto. Value of the fundamental charge, ditto.

  68. #68 Alexander Vargas
    August 7, 2006

    The scheme of selfish genes is nothing but reductionist. Read Gould. Mayr. It only works if genes are not context-dependent on their effects on the phenotype. Which of course, is false.
    I dont know if jesus was real (probably only half real if at all) but reagradless that which people know as the “teachings of jesus” have, whether you want to admit it or not, a humanistic philosophical component. But you guys treat him like just some dirty hippie. Thats unfair, if you care to think a bit about it.
    Can’t take a few words of contrary opinion, PZ? You feel like shooing me off, already???
    And conflating me with the deist enemy? Hahaha you now that is false, that I am an atheist. See, Its all about “looks” and “siding” for the extremist.
    Aaah well. OK now. Bye bye then

  69. #69 PZ Myers
    August 7, 2006

    Bored now.

  70. #70 quork
    August 7, 2006

    but reagradless that which people know as the “teachings of jesus” have, whether you want to admit it or not, a humanistic philosophical component.

    Oh sure, they have a humanistic component. They also have an inhumanistic component.

  71. #71 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    I dont know if jesus was real (probably only half real if at all)

    The beard was never very convincing.

  72. #72 Alexander Vargas
    August 7, 2006

    Gerard,

    All the rest of the cell that is not the genes.

    Its not just “cell-putty”, ya know

  73. #73 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    Loren:
    “And has he shown us the calculations of how if one fundamental physical constant was only 10^-6 or 10^-12 off, the resulting Universe would be uninhabitable?”

    Since I don’t remember any numbers I googled Wikipedia and it is typically mentioned numbers like 2 % (for the strong nuclear force http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_universe ) to 4 % (for the fine structure constant http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-structure_constant ). So yes, he seems to be sloppy here too.

    Alexander:
    “But you guys treat him like just some dirty hippie.”

    Actually, I thought he was crucified because he was considered to be his time equivalent of a terrorist.

  74. #74 John Wendt
    August 7, 2006

    Collins was floored by the faith of his patients. But is faith anything more than a cheap placebo?

    And by appealing to morality as evidence for Divine Intervention he implicitely blows away Hamilton, Trivers, Tooby/Cosmides, et al.

  75. #75 cserpent
    August 7, 2006

    I’ll take logical fallacies for $200 Alex:

    I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, could have created itself.

    What is an argument from personal incredulity?

    I’ll take logically fallacies for $400:

    When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming.

    What is affirming the consequent?

    I’ll take logically fallacies for $600:

    And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it.

    What is begging the question?

    I’ll take logical fallacies for $800:

    If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it… It seems almost impossible that we’re here.

    What is an appeal to probability?

    I’ll take logically fallacies for $1000:

    I have trouble with the argument that altruism can be completely explained on evolutionary grounds. …evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. … to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs.

    What are false dichotomy and straw man arguments?

    Yikes!

  76. #76 Kagehi
    August 7, 2006

    Reviving someone after they’ve been dead three days, now…that’s impossible so far as I know…with current technology.

    However, its not impossible to make someone “seem” to be dead for three days, then revive them. There are cases using things like puffer fish of this happening, both by accident and on purposed, as well as a form of epilepy, when, if exposed to certain chemicals that effect brain function, fall into a comatose state with a radically lowered heart rate, which someone without modern medical equipment would find it virtually impossible to tell from real death. In fact, some people, who presume Jesus was a real person, point out the delusions of special purpose and religious obsession, apparent mood swings and the common use of an herb that contains the substance in question, as possible arguments for how he could have “woke up” three days later. Sadly, the condition, when this compound (can’t remember the name of it at the moment), causes unreversible nueralogical collapse in those with temporal lobe epilepsy that recieve it. This starts with short term dementia and memory loss, and eventually causes a collapse into a near vegitative state, in which the individual can’t care for themselves, then finally death. The compound has no such effect on people with normal brain structure and was commonly used to treat medical conditions, prior to the discovery that it caused coma and death in a specific set of patients.

    See, even if you believe the literal version of events, its not necessary to apply supernatural explanations to it. Now, if it had been a month or something… But that’s harder to say. Such extreme metobolic states do not use energy or water as fast as normal ones, so its possible to survive far longer in those states, given safe conditions, than would be normal anyway. Its not entirely clear “what” a reasonable length of time to be in such a state without long term damage actually “is” for a healthy person, assuming you could safely induce one in the first place.

  77. #77 Gerard Harbison
    August 7, 2006

    Gerard,
    All the rest of the cell that is not the genes.

    All of the cell that is not the genes is (1) RNA obtained by transcribing the genes (2)protein obtained by translating the RNA (3) various metabolic products of the enzymatic action of the proteins (4) water and (5) electrolytes. Assuming you aren’t in ‘get your own dirt’ mode, the first three are all direct or indirect genetic products. Granted, there is structure in the fertilized ovum that is necessary for the beginning of embryogenesis, but remember that structure was produced as a result of the expression of the genes in the previous generation. And the previous generation could have been cloned from a single, non-germ-line cell. The contention that there is an extra ingredient in the fertilized egg that is somehow passed from generation to generation independently of the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes doesn’t stand up to close inspection.

  78. #78 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    You all could lighten up. In Collins you have an extremely visible scientist and Christian who says (paraphrasing) “evolution is as good and well supported as any theory gets.” Yet you feel the need to kick him around anyway because he’s not an atheist? Reminds me of some fussy parent in the 1960’s saying to her teenage daughter, “Do you really have to wear a skirt that short?”

    Seems like a page from W’s book: you’re either with us or agin’ us.

  79. #79 Steve LaBonne
    August 7, 2006

    Not because he’s not an atheist, but because he misuses his position as a scientist to give the public a highly inaccurate picture of areas of science that he clearly understands poorly himself. That’s an offense against intellectual honesty and he should be called on it.

  80. #80 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    Kaghesi

    There are cases using things like puffer fish of this happening, both by accident and on purposed, as well as a form of epilepy, when, if exposed to certain chemicals that effect brain function, fall into a comatose state with a radically lowered heart rate, which someone without modern medical equipment would find it virtually impossible to tell from real death.

    Pure horseshit. Do you think we’re a bunch of fucking idiots here?

  81. #81 GH
    August 7, 2006

    agree with Collins that if there was a God and he had a plan, then evolution would be a perfectly reasonable way to implement it

    Reasonable? With all the waste and extinctions? How is billions of years and billions upon billions of lost life reasonable?

    I’ve never understood this argument. Nor the fact it ignores the continual nature of evolution and the fact that we cannot be a ‘stopping’ point.

  82. #82 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    AndyS

    You all could lighten up. In Collins you have an extremely visible scientist and Christian who says (paraphrasing) “evolution is as good and well supported as any theory gets.” Yet you feel the need to kick him around anyway because he’s not an atheist?

    Uh, it looks to me like it’s Collins who feels the need to kick people around. Oh, and to turn people on to Jesus.

    All we’re doing is responding to Collins.

    Reminds me of some fussy parent in the 1960’s saying to her teenage daughter, “Do you really have to wear a skirt that short?”

    You’re projecting, mommy.

  83. #83 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    Reasonable? With all the waste and extinctions? How is billions of years and billions upon billions of lost life reasonable?

    I’ve never understood this argument.

    Neither have I. Your brain has to be wired to accept that anything that is impressive in any way can reasonably be attributed to God. If it’s impressive in a good way, then it’s due to God’s desire for goodness. If it’s impressive in a bad way, it’s party of God’s “mysterious plan”.

    Let the record show: it’s 2006 and humans are still mostly willfully ignorant stooges reciting bullshit scripts which were penned centuries ago by even stupider people sitting around in shit-stained tunics while women and slaves washed the shit out of their spare shit-stained tunics.

  84. #84 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    Steve: “…because he misuses his position as a scientist to give the public a highly inaccurate picture of areas of science that he clearly understands poorly himself. That’s an offense against intellectual honesty and he should be called on it.”

    Oh, come on. He runs the Human Genone Project (quite successfully it seems) and was one of its founders, has a PhD in physics and is an MD, defends evoluntion, explains why creationism and ID are wrong, doesn’t take the Bible literally. There’s a lot to like in this man. The takedown of him here seems just plain meanspirited. What “highly inaccurate picture of science” is he painting?

  85. #85 Steve LaBonne
    August 7, 2006

    You can read PZ’s posts on the subject- especially the Larry Moran one- for yourself, so here’s no reason for me to rehash them at length. The short version is that he is a theistic evolutionist who doesn’t think humans could have evolved without divine nudging. That’s anti-science, and his attempts to argue for it- see those posts for discusssion- reflect considerable ignorance of evolutionary genetics, a field which is quite separate from the areas in which he has done distinguished work. One can’t be an expert in everything- but one should refrain from illegitimately borrowing the prestige acquired in one’s field of expertise to presume on the public’s credulity by pronoucing authoritatively on matters in which one is quite non-expert. Especially when one has a science-incompatible ideological axe to grind.

  86. #86 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    Great White Wonder: Uh, it looks to me like it’s Collins who feels the need to kick people around. Oh, and to turn people on to Jesus.

    Who is Collins kicking around? Seems to me he’s just answering an interviewer’s questions about his personal religious beliefs — hardly evangelizing. Go pick on Behe and Dembski. This thread makes me think white lab coats are being worn over brown shirts — that no scientist can express even quite ordinary, mainstream, science-friendly Christian beliefs without being mocked by a bunch of grim atheists. As an atheist myself, I don’t like the implications.

  87. #87 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    Steve, this where I think you’ve flipped a bit: Collins is expressing his personal beliefs in an interview and not presenting them as having any special status, it’s not a peer-reviewed journal or even an evangelical blog. I’m not aware of any oath scientists take only speak as scientists about science. He’s a human being and is coping with life by latching onto a very mild Christian framework. Who cares? He’s not one of the bad guys.

  88. #88 Igor
    August 7, 2006

    AndyS–
    I think you make great points. Just out of curiousity-you say

    “that no scientist can express even quite ordinary, mainstream, science-friendly Christian beliefs without being mocked by a bunch of grim atheists. As an atheist myself, I don’t like the implications.”

    What do you think those implications might be?

  89. #89 Chris Clarke
    August 7, 2006

    This is a photo I took, while hiking in January 2006, of a frozen waterfall in Arizona.

    Note the five distinct cascades, an obvious reference to the five-pointed star known as the Pentagram.

    Hail Satan!

  90. #90 thwaite
    August 7, 2006

    Vargas’s published paper (which he cited in another thread) shows affiliation with a Chilean University. Despite the ideals for science to be an internationally coherent enterprise, there are distinct national styles in everything from math to (perhaps especially) biology – and biology also has a separate history of distortions for national cultural agenda, e.g. Lysenko in the USSR. Chile has characteristically cultivated theoretical biologists such as Francisco Varela who push a ‘systems’ approach to biology as an alternative to reductionism, according to the Chilean ecologist R. Nespolo who published a cautionary article in Revista Chilena de Historia Natural in 2003. Nespolo’s title reveals to Chilean readers what is here obvious: “Evolution by Natural Selection: more evidence than ever before”. I don’t know much about the Chilean milieau which led to this separate history, however.

    Turning from the population to the individual: objections to reductionism arise among psychologists also (I’ve mentioned Caporael’s work elsewhere). An otherwise respectable cognitive psychologist, Keith Stanovich, came out in 2004 with THE ROBOT’S REBELLION: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin, a title alluding to Dawkins’ lumbering robots image (didn’t *anybody* read his subsequent EXTENDED PHENOTYPE book?). The rebellion seems to involve a distinction between “the autonomous subsystems” in cogntion which he can’t deny look awfully adaptive and homologous to other animals’ behavioral traits, versus our specialized cognitive ability to plan longer term and thus do weird choice tradeoffs including foregoing reproduction altogether. I wasn’t persuaded, but it was interesting for a treatment of the peculiar human case.

    Dawkins’ metaphors are provocative, sometimes productively.

  91. #91 cserpent
    August 7, 2006

    AndyS wrote:

    Yet you feel the need to kick him around anyway because he’s not an atheist?

    No. He’s being kicked because he explicitly blames a subset of scientists who happen also to be athiests for the antiscience movement in this country:

    Collins says:

    They could not leave this claim unchallenged — that evolution alone can explain all of life’s complexity. It sounded like a godless outcome.

    It’s great that he is a prominent scientist and a supporter of teaching evolution in biology classes, but…

    He states that science and religion don’t mix and subsequently he mixes them.

    He conflates evolution and natural selection, just like an antievolution creationist.

    He argues against an evolutionary origin for altruism while demonstrating no knowledge or understanding of the research on the subject.

    He claims as a scientist to have evidence for supernatural causation, implies that his evidence is scientific, but presents his so-called evidence in the form of logical fallacies.

    He must be aware that his prominence as a scientist will give him considerable credibility with lay persons and some scientists, yet he uses that credibility, specifically his position as a scientist, promote his religious beliefs.

    These are all good reasons for (metaphorical) swift kicks to the head.

  92. #92 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    Me:

    I agree with Collins that [purely hypothetically and probably counterfactually] if there was a God and he had a plan, then evolution would be a perfectly reasonable way to implement it

    GH:

    Reasonable? With all the waste and extinctions? How is billions of years and billions upon billions of lost life reasonable?

    It depends on your utility model. I can easily imagine that matter, energy, space, and time are cheap, whereas divine attention is precious. By analogy, I occasionally find myself running a computer program to solve a problem by brute force enumeration of millions of mostly obviously failing cases when I could get the same answer using pencil and paper just by thinking a little harder. You could call that “wasteful” (all those cases that I could have easily ruled out) but actually I am making a better judgment of which resources are cheapest. I try to avoid using my brain to do things easy enough for a computer to do.

    Granted, it is a little hard to introduce cost models when talking about an allegedly all powerful being; finite costs make no sense. But by the same token, I don’t see how you would argue that one solution is more wasteful than another.

    Another thought: many if not most scientists would agree that the aesthetic value of the universe lies in the fact that it can be understood in terms of relatively few principles. Any reasonably powerful deity could create human intelligence in a small “non-wasteful” universe, but it would probably require lots of special cases. It may be (in fact I think it probably is true) that a universe of uniform physical laws that can evolve intelligence would by necessity have lots of “wasted” space.

    Again, what’s your cost model? I think that many galaxies of “wasted” universe are far cheaper than introducing even one special case into the laws of the universe just to avoid it.

    This should not be taken as an endorsement for Collins’s view, but just an explanation of why I see evolution as not contradictory to the existence of God, though it’s obviously not to be confused with supporting evidence.

  93. #93 GH
    August 7, 2006

    You could call that “wasteful” (all those cases that I could have easily ruled out) but actually I am making a better judgment of which resources are cheapest. I try to avoid using my brain to do things easy enough for a computer to do

    C’mon Paul that is not what evolution is doing. I don’t think analogy is even remotely useful here.

    Any reasonably powerful deity could create human intelligence in a small “non-wasteful” universe, but it would probably require lots of special cases.

    So? If the name of the game is producing these ‘special’ cases the ends justifies the means and it is more efficient.

    This should not be taken as an endorsement for Collins’s view, but just an explanation of why I see evolution as not contradictory to the existence of God, though it’s obviously not to be confused with supporting evidence.

    No there are plenty of other reasons for that but I agree one can fit a version of God just about anywhere. I do not think evolution and Christianity fit together well at all without some serious mental gymnastics.

  94. #94 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    GH:

    C’mon Paul that is not what evolution is doing. I don’t think analogy is even remotely useful here.

    OK, you tell me what evolution is doing. Personally, I’m of the view that any sufficiently large complex dynamic system within some broad range of characteristics will eventually contain self-replicating systems (this is observable in many cellular automata) and will most likely contain some intelligent life as well. If I had the resources of even a minor god, I’d probably test this hypothesis, much as I would now run a computer program. Sadly, under present circumstances it’s just a hunch. I would find this system far more interesting than one I just pieced together like a sterile office park landscape, and the fact that it wasn’t all exactly how I wanted it to be would not be a major drawback. That’s the only outcome I could reasonable expect. So a God consistent with my own inclinations would probably create such a universe. The God of Genesis is the one I find counterintuitve and rather juvenile.

    I do not think evolution and Christianity fit together well at all without some serious mental gymnastics.

    I said absolutely nothing about Christianity, and I think I have made it clear that I disagree with Collins on almost everything he has to say about religion. However, I was brought up to believe in a parsimonious God in the sense of one that would set a universe in motion according to simple rules and rarely intervene. I agree that this is not the traditional Christian God (who is aware of every sparrow that falls and so on). But it was always my religious intuition back when I was religious, so I find it very strange for non-religious people to tell me that it was not.

  95. #95 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    This thread makes me think white lab coats are being worn over brown shirts — that no scientist can express even quite ordinary, mainstream, science-friendly Christian beliefs

    What’s “ordinary” about publishing a book and going on a press tour?

    Time for a reality check.

  96. #96 dkon
    August 7, 2006

    The biggest problem with Collins: his argument from “Moral Law”, the alleged presence of innate ethical beliefs in human beings, is structurally idenitical to the irreducible complexity canard of ID. It’s saying: look at this purty thing, I can’t see how it could have evolved, therefore it was created by my favorite supreme being. So, in addition to his apparent ignorance of sociobiological research, he promulgates the same ol’ God of the Gaps.

    While I’m of the opinion that the proprietor of this blog can be too quick to go from “I don’t believe in a god” to “anyone who does is a dumbass”, in this case I think the opprobium is richly deserved.

  97. #97 Great White Wonder
    August 7, 2006

    AndyS

    I’m not aware of any oath scientists take only speak as scientists about science.

    Nice strawman. I’ll ignore it.

    He’s a human being and is coping with life by latching onto a very mild Christian framework. Who cares?

    Evangelical Christianity is “very mild”? He wrote a fucking book devoted mainly to promoting his religion. Seen any relatively high profile Quaker scientists doing that recently?

    In any event, it’s obvious that some of us here care. Are we advocating that Collins be stripped of his Ph.D. and any awards and his position for this “outrage”? No, not at all. We just think some of his statements are sorta stupid and because this is a blog where such stupid statements are often discussed we are discussing them.

    I’m not sure why any of this confuses you, frankly.

  98. #98 PaulC
    August 7, 2006

    GH: but more to the point, if you think the universe is wasteful, then define your utility model and explain why it is better than mine. It seems odd to me that one can argue that something God might do is unreasonable if you start with some assumption of God who is smarter than you or I by definition. That assumption is itself unreasonable, but I had introduced it as a hypothetical condition.

    I don’t think the goal would be one particular “special” outcome, by the way. The outcome would be to realize the potential of the universe’s initial conditions, whatever that might happen to be. Even current mainstream Christianity places an emphasis on free will. To the extent that Christianity holds that “God wins” is the required outcome, that is ultimately enforced by angels, horned beasts, and other remarkable occurrences that are pretty obviously an interference with nature rather than a consequence.

  99. #99 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    Igor,

    I think you make great points. Just out of curiousity-you say

    “that no scientist can express even quite ordinary, mainstream, science-friendly Christian beliefs without being mocked by a bunch of grim atheists. As an atheist myself, I don’t like the implications.”

    What do you think those implications might be?

    I have two concerns.

    The first is about hardening the view among religious people that scientists are and must be against religion. Some scientists are (PZ for instance offers tirade after tirade). But I think that stance serves the world poorly; I see no reason to be that devisive. Some people have religious beliefs that don’t conflict with science or methodological naturalism. What’s to be gained from pissing them off and enhancing the view that athiests are just a bunch of snarky dicks? The supposed conflict between science and religion is not a conflict for science which need make no religious claims; it is an issue for religous people to find a way to reconcile their beliefs with science.

    My second concern is a bigger one. Whenever a group of people coalesce around a set of beliefs, there is some tendancy in the group to police its membership with respect to the partyline and to demonize or belittle people outside the group. Many hard right, fundamentalist Christians do it. I really hate to see that same behavior among scientific atheists.

    I’ll add a thrid concern: those of us in the science camp must acknowledge that human beings need a larger belief system than science provides — or can provide. Science does not, can not, should not prescribe an ethical system, yet people and societies need one (or several mutually compatible ones). It’s no surprise to me that many people (like Collins) turn to religion for that, and I’m glad that most religious people and most athiests follow a decent set of ethical guidelines. What science can do is study ways to help people with conflicting ethics learn to live together. There are some sociologists and psychologists doing just that. Too bad that sort of scientific endeavor is not well-funded or highly compenstated.

  100. #100 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    Great White Wonder:

    Evangelical Christianity is “very mild”? He wrote a fucking book devoted mainly to promoting his religion. Seen any relatively high profile Quaker scientists doing that recently?

    High profile Quaker scientists? I guess that’s your strawman.

    Your implication that evangelical Christianity can not be “very mild” is one of things that I find disturbing. I think it is a result of the black-and-white, us-against-them trend these days on both sides. Have a look at Chuck Currie’s blog http://chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/. He’s a United Church of Christ Minister and a liberal. Google “evangelical liberal.” They exist.

    It’s really useful to be informed about Evangelicals — especially when you might tend to stereotype them. You learn, rather than being a monolithic group of rightwing fanatics, they are people of all persuasions. There is even a megachurch now whose pastor has denounced equating being a good Christian with rightwing politics. He lost 20% of his flock but 4,000 people stayed with many of them expressing relief.

    And what in the world is wrong with writing a book about your religious views? Have you even read it?

  101. #101 AndyS
    August 7, 2006

    cserpent,

    I certainly don’t agree with Collins, but I just can’t get worked up over a scientist writing a book about his religious views when he isn’t doing anything underhanded. He’s not pushing ID into science class (he even explains why ID doesn’t work), doesn’t appear to have a political agenda, doesn’t even seem to be pushing his religious views very hard.

    He claims as a scientist to have evidence for supernatural causation, implies that his evidence is scientific, but presents his so-called evidence in the form of logical fallacies.

    I did not see that. Is it in the link PZ provides or some other source.

    He must be aware that his prominence as a scientist will give him considerable credibility with lay persons and some scientists, yet he uses that credibility, specifically his position as a scientist, promote his religious beliefs.

    Now you are just speculating.

    Let’s go after the sharks. This guy is a guppie.

  102. #102 GH
    August 8, 2006

    but more to the point, if you think the universe is wasteful, then define your utility model and explain why it is better than mine. It seems odd to me that one can argue that something God might do is unreasonable if you start with some assumption of God who is smarter than you or I by definition. That assumption is itself unreasonable, but I had introduced it as a hypothetical condition

    I don’t think the universe is wasteful at all. I think an intelligent being however should be able to come up with a more streamlined process that saves alot of time and material if one presumes you know what your end product is supposed to be. In that regard I find such a process wasteful.

    I don’t consider the universe wasteful minus this simply because it is as good today as it was a million years ago. The form has changed some but it is not on it’s way to a predetermined endpoint.

  103. #103 PaulC
    August 8, 2006

    GH: I’m not sure why you impose the notion of a predetermined endpoint any reasonable notion of God’s plan. It is hardly universal to all Christian religions let alone all theistic ones. I’ll concede that if you’re a Calvinist, the universe might look like a curious way for God to go about his business. Barring that, any religion that assumes free will states explicitly that God does not have the outcome predetermined down to the last detail.

    And again, the final Christian outcome with the second coming of Jesus and so forth is clearly not a consequence of natural laws, so it’s well within the latitude of Christian belief to say that God provided humans with a natural universe within which to act and did not determine the outcome but will ultimately set it all straight using other than natural means. This was more or less the brand of Roman Catholicism I was taught and it seems more reasonable and more intellectually appealing to me that biblical literalism, though I admit there are a lot inconsistencies regarding what that free will could possibly entail if we’re a product of natural law, or how God could be omniscient and not predetermine the outcome. So I don’t really believe this now, but I do find is as reasonable as evangelical literalist views, which have always struck me as childish and unimaginative.

  104. #104 melior (in Austin)
    August 8, 2006

    The part where Collins describes his conversion as bringing an immense sense of relief leaves the impression that he had been fighting strong feelings of loneliness and/or fear.

    God is a concept by which we measure our pain.

    – John Lennon

  105. #105 goddogtired
    August 8, 2006

    LOTS of evidence in this thread to justify my nearly total lack of anything BUT tolerance for the “you can’t talk like that!” prissy Christians not already in the grip of Xinanity.

  106. #106 Great White Wonder
    August 8, 2006

    And what in the world is wrong with writing a book about your religious views? Have you even read it?

    What a surprise, a concern troll who can move goalposts, too.

    Are you sure you only have three concerns? I’m guessing you have dozens more. I’m so glad you are here to remind us that religious people have feelings, too, and there is more than one kind of evangelical Christian. Keep up the great work.

    Now that we’ve got that out of the way, can you explain to me why criticizing Collins’ inane nonsense — which he published in a book and is now promoting in interviews to the press — makes me a “brownshirt”?

  107. #107 Steve LaBonne
    August 8, 2006

    I’m glad Andy finally managed to notice that Collins didn’t just “give an interview” but wrote a heavily promoted book. I guess having so many “concerns” makes it difficult to notice these little things…

    Again, Collins abused his deservedly eminent position to aggressively peddle unscientific nonsense to a gullible public. I don’t think it’s OK for scientists to do that, whether the motivation is religious, political, or anything else.

    Now I’m going to stop feeding the concern troll.

  108. #108 quork
    August 8, 2006

    Some people have religious beliefs that don’t conflict with science or methodological naturalism. What’s to be gained from pissing them off and enhancing the view that athiests are just a bunch of snarky dicks?

    Pointing out logical flaws and hypocrisy is going to piss off such people and qualifies the pointers as brownshirts? How bizarre!

    Collins is a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is the worst of human sins. The failure to apply one’s own standards to one’s own behaviour (such as Collins’ statement that science cannot be used to address religion) will be despised by the vast majority of human beings.

    He claims as a scientist to have evidence for supernatural causation, implies that his evidence is scientific, but presents his so-called evidence in the form of logical fallacies.
    .
    I did not see that. Is it in the link PZ provides or some other source.

    Yes, it is in that link. It is in the quotes PZ and others have taken from that link. You must really have your head up your ass to make the comments you’ve made if you haven’t read the linked article or much of the preceding commentary.

    doesn’t even seem to be pushing his religious views very hard.

    I don’t understand that remark, following so soon after acknowledgment that Collins has written a book to promote his religious beliefs, is currently touring and giving interviews to promote the book, and therefore his religious beliefs, and seems willing to prostitute science and logic in the service of promoting his religious beliefs. My current explanation is that you have your head lodged in your ass.

    Oh, and as for Collins work on the Human Genome Project, he did such a great job at it that he had half his lunch eaten by Venter.

  109. #109 quork
    August 8, 2006

    If I had the resources of even a minor god, I’d probably test this hypothesis, much as I would now run a computer program.

    You must be using an undefined term, because your usage of “god” indicates that it does not include omniscience, an attribute many people would include in their definitions. Why would an omniscient being have to test anything?

  110. #110 Keith Douglas
    August 8, 2006

    NickM: They may be good arguments, but they are also old. Kant was profoundly agnostic and certainly not a fan of organized religion. But when encouraged to take it seriously by his patron then we got all this stuff about the moral law. If this had been a new development in philosophy of religion, I couldn’t fault Collins for using it. But it has been around for a while now …

    natural cynic: Bertrand Russell would probably have eaten Lewis for lunch if they’d ever debated. (I suppose they could have – they were alive at the same time, after all.)

    Scott Hatfield: “but the product of science” Except that (as I have pointed out both here and on Salon) they aren’t products of science. They are in fact misrepresentations of what the relevant areas of science actually say.

    Torbjörn Larsson: From what I understand it is actually better to say that the singularity is a property of the equations. (For example, f(x) = 1/x has a singularity at x = 0.) Hence the idea that “the laws of physics break down at the singularity” is nonsense – rather our understanding breaks down and we should look for a more comprehensive theory. As for the big bang, I referenced somewhere else I believe a paper of Grünbaum’s, which is: “Poverty Of Thestic Cosmology” … good reading if one can find it. (Bunge says some similar things scattered in various places, and even Hawking has if you skip some of the bogus stuff.)

    Loren Petrich: More crucially, has he shown that the constants can vary by any mechanism? (Obviously not: that would be Nobel Prize level material, I’d think.) I feel here he’s just appealing to the Leibnizian notion of “possible worlds” here, whence he is not only being foolish about the physics but also begging the question. Similarly, so many people think of the laws of nature as being contingent. Are they? Well, in a difference sense from contignent in logic. The mistake of confusing the logical and the ontological is so rife these days (and since Aristotle, for that matter) and really ticks me off. (Since so many of the people who indulge I think are smart enough to know better.)

    John Wendt: Cheap? Tithing to many congregations can be quite expensive!

    AndyS: I attack his cluelessness because he is, well, clueless. Moreover, since he’s claimed as an example of someone who has reconciled his science with his faith, I find it important to say that he hasn’t. Why? Because (a) the truth matters and (b) misrepresenting the actual science is bound to bite you on the butt sooner or later.

  111. #111 Alexander Vargas
    August 8, 2006

    If you question Dawkins, expect some frivolous conflation with deism, or something evil, like lysenkoism. Dawkobots think dichotomally, that is my whole point. Either you accept their crap, or you are crap. Their complete existential framework, war against religion included, mind you, demands that their scientific views be an example of rationality and seriousness. Which it is not, if anybody here actually had the ability to understand what I said of he context-dependency of the effect of a gene on the phenotype. That is, if anyone here were paying attention to biology, instead of ME, the person, whatever frivolous argument of national origin, conflation with deism etc.

  112. #112 PZ Myers
    August 8, 2006

    Dawkobots think dichotomally

    Ironic coming from one of the most absolutist, black&white, dichotomy-making commenters here.

    I thought you were going bye-bye? Could you please shuffle your way out the door now so I don’t have to shoo you out rudely?

  113. #113 Scott Hatfield
    August 8, 2006

    Keith Douglas:

    I agree that inferring the existence of God from the anthropic principle is not in itself a product of science; I meant merely that the observations that provide support for some version of the anthropic principle are the products of science. Collins used those products of science, but when makes his inference to God, he is not using the scientific toolkit (falsifiable hypothesis, experiments with controls, etc.). That was the distinction I was trying to make.

    Is that sensible? I value your feedback.

    Clumsily…Scott

  114. #114 PaulC
    August 8, 2006

    quork:

    You must be using an undefined term, because your usage of “god” indicates that it does not include omniscience, an attribute many people would include in their definitions.

    And many people would not include omniscience, particularly since I stipulated a “minor god.” Honestly, you people… read some greek mythology. Zeus turned himself into a bull to seduce the maiden Europa. Does that sound like something an omniscient god would do? And I don’t count Zeus as minor. Minor would be something like a god who leaves the dust bunnies under everyone’s bed. Even a god like that could probably get some time on the sort of massive supercomputer I was thinking of.

    I made a hypothetical statement that a God (admittedly capitalized) with a plan might reasonably enact it using evolution rather than do the whole thing down to the last detail. This is as reasonable as many existing religious beliefs. It is more reasonable than some. Quoting myself (and this is taken out of a context entirely unfavorable to Collins save this one concession):

    I agree with Collins that if there was a God and he had a plan, then evolution would be a perfectly reasonable way to implement it.

    Sorry, but the attempted refutations add stuff that I didn’t say. I grant GH’s point that if God wanted one particular narrow outcome (human worshippers formed precisely in his image whom he will save at one particular moment) it would be a perverse way to get it. Actually a putative God is entitled to do things in ways that seem perverse to us, but that’s a little bit of a copout. What I really mean is that I can understand a narrative in which God, the big one, carries out creation using evolution. It strikes me as a reasonable, engaging, narrative, though not one backed by empirical evidence. I like that better than the one where God put every daisy in the right place; even the most fanatical film director doesn’t have the degree of control. I.e., the reason I’m not religious isn’t because there is no potentially consistent story here. It’s that there is no empirical backing for the story, and that religious people around the world seem to have totally different stories.

    As for quork’s statement, I grant that an omniscient God wouldn’t need to run experiments, and I said as much. In fact, one huge theological problem is all the hoops people go through to reconcile an omniscient God with human free will and moral responsibility. To be honest, it looks like kind of a showstopper to me, but no where in my statement did I stipulate omniscience.

  115. #115 windy
    August 8, 2006

    A. Vargas wrote: Which it is not, if anybody here actually had the ability to understand what I said of he context-dependency of the effect of a gene on the phenotype.

    What the hell has that got to do with selfishness?

    previously: The scheme of selfish genes is nothing but reductionist. Read Gould. Mayr. It only works if genes are not context-dependent on their effects on the phenotype. Which of course, is false.

    Makes about as much sense as “Individuals can be selfish only if their behaviour is not context-dependent.”

  116. #116 Igor
    August 8, 2006

    PZ–I don’t know if I’m too new to this forum and its history to understand what’s going on between you and Vargas, but I am curious why you want to stifle his input. I don’t see what is so heinous about bringing up the points he brings up, especially when I have seen others bring up similar points without you trying to stifle them. Also, although for the most part people seem to be considerate and thoughtful in their responses, I have seen some who are completely abusive and prefer personal attacks to reasoned responses, and you say nothing to them. Vargas can be sarcastic in his input, but I have yet to see him write abusively. It also seems that most people here who disagree with Vargas are pretty good at calling him on what they think is bull without any need of anyone protecting them from it. I realize this is your blog, but as a supporter of freedom of speech, I am not sure why you are trying to chase off Vargas who is exercising that freedom. As I said, I don’t know the history between you two. Maybe there is more to this than I realize. I apologize if I am misunderstanding the situation.

    Thanks.

  117. #117 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 8, 2006

    Dianne:

    I forgot to mention that speculations of a singularity is in cosmology that concentrates on the observed hubble volume, while there are examples of endless inflation where AFAIK no such compaction is needed when a baby universe is created.

    somnilista:
    By coincidence I found a comment that shows one reason why it is hard to increase the hubble constant much above 10 % above the low 70s: “Our group concluded that there is a strict 99-percent upper limit on the Hubble Constant from the known lens systems of 78 km s-1 Mpc-1, found by making the maximal assumption that mass follows light. This limit is much stronger than that from the HST Key Project or any other direct method other than perhaps the baryon acoustic feature in the LRGs.” ( http://hoggresearch.blogspot.com/2006/08/strong-lensing.html ).

    Keith:
    Yes, I should perhaps have made the difference explicit as you do. OTOH, while string theory, which is supposed to be a basic theory, removes many singularities from former theories I believe it still incorporates some as a needed feature.

    But that has probably nothing to do with the original state of our universe. Without a QG theory probably nobody will know for sure about that or about realised singularities. But see also my comment to Dianne above on potentially infinite cosmologies. AFAIK theorists think no singularities are realised.

  118. #118 PZ Myers
    August 8, 2006

    He’s repetitive and abusive. We have one thread here that he pushed up to nearly a thousand comments solely by obstinately saying the same things over and over, and refusing to pay any attention to criticism. I’ve only seen that kind of persistent obtuseness from creationists before, and I’ve also asked them to leave…and in one instance, banned the little noisemaker.

    It’s not a problem to make a case for a dissenting view. It is a problem to make the same case 100 times. You have to understand that unlike most readers here, I at least skim through every single comment — a shrill creationist who zips in and calls me nasty names is far less annoying than the one-note johnnies who can’t stop rocking their hobby-horses.

  119. #119 Paul W.
    August 8, 2006

    It pains me to defend Vargas, but I have to agree that Dawkins is a greedy reductionist about units of selection. Group selection is real, and does not simply reduce to gene selection in the way Dawkins likes to make it sound.

    (That’s not to say that group selection is usually strong; individual or gene selection is usually much stronger. On the other hand, when group selection does work, and it does work under certain circumstances, it can do things that individual selection can’t do.)

    If anybody’s interested in this, I strongly recommend Sober and Wilson’s book Unto Others, which ties together game theory, evolution-of-cooperation stuff like Axelrod’s, and regular evolutionary theory. Fascinating book.

    That said…

    Alexander, I really wish you would take a hike. I think you have one good point, which many people here do miss, but you make no real effort to make that point and articulate why others should agree—explaining how group selection makes sense, how Dawkins really is a greedy reductionist about units of selection, etcetera.

    Just dismissing him as “reductionist” isn’t going to work; reduction isn’t necessarily wrong or bad, so you have to be specific about how the reduction in question fails. Given ambiguity in the term “reductionist” and its use as an epithet, you also have to make it clear which things that are often called “reductionist” you’re actually criticizing, and which you accept as valid. You often make it sound like “reductionism” is a black/white issue, and you’re one of the good guys and everybody else is a bad guy.

    You are the kind of condescending, simplistic, uselessly divisive reductionist asshole that you accuse others here of being. A lot of what you write sounds pretty much like “Dawkins is just a complete dope, and if you’re stupid enough to agree with him, so are you!”

    Well, fuck that. It’s not that simple, and it’s not that boring.

    If you know better, then you should show it, and politely and patiently explain what Dawkins is in fact wrong about, and how you can tell that he’s wrong.

    I’d be tempted to try that myself, but I really don’t want to be involved in any thread that you’re in, because you exhibit the very same flaws you perceive in others, and take all the fun out of it.

    Please put up or shut up, or just go away.

  120. #120 Great White Wonder
    August 8, 2006

    Speaking of one-note Johnnies:

    I certainly don’t agree with Collins, but I just can’t get worked up over a scientist writing a book about his religious views when he isn’t doing anything underhanded.

    Okay, Andy. You can’t get worked up. Thanks.

  121. #121 PaulC
    August 8, 2006

    On the group/individual selection question, I’m probably getting in way over my head here, but individual members of social primate species don’t live in a vacuum. Their environment is dominated by other primates of their species, so couldn’t a development of cooperative traits be explained as an individual adaptation?

    E.g., a completely selfish chimp is not as successful as a chimp who knows how to trade social and material capital to muster allies. At best, it could scrape by living on the fringes. A chimp that worked well with others would almost certainly have more offspring. By the time humans emerged, their ancestors had probably been living socially for many generations, so you would look at the evolution of cooperative behavior in that context (note: I am skeptical of various sensationalized claims of evolutionary psychology, but some of our behavior should in principal be explicable in terms of natural selection).

    It’s a completely uncontroversial principle of economics that trade often benefits both parties and will be pursued out of self-interest. Why would this not also apply to individuals in the context of a social species?

  122. #122 Steve LaBonne
    August 8, 2006

    The problem with group selection is that an allele can’t be favored for transmission unless it provides fitness benefits to the individuals that carry it, no matter how much it might benefit the species, or whatever unit the group-selectionist is plumping for. (In general, theoretical models that have been proposed from time to time which purportedly show the possibility of group selection have tuned out to be re-analyzable as exhibiting gene-level selection- kin selection being only the first and most famous example of such re-analysis.) The more sophisticated proponents of group selection (which pretty much means, D.S. Wilson) have invented various sorts of fancy algebra to try to square this circle, but they have let to convince most evolutionary geeneticists. The less sophisticated proponents, typically people with little background in population genetics, just ignore the problem.

  123. #123 Alexander Vargas
    August 8, 2006

    The point being that if the effect of a single gene on the phenotype depends on other genes that may or may not be present in the genome: and genes can only be selected for through their effect on the phenotype. The only way out is to say that “complexes” of genes are selected for, but see, if these complexes are broken up and recombined at each reproduction there is no stable unit to select.
    And this note I had not played before, PZ. Jeez PZ, really, whats wrong with you? Everybody around here, you included, gets QUITE repetitive, what happens is that you dont mind repetition of the notes you like, and tha’ts it!.

  124. #124 thwaite
    August 8, 2006

    Group/individual selection: even Darwin argued for group selection in human origins (music, social coalitions, etc) – but he knew zip about genetics and didn’t have to reconcile his proposed arguments with an underlying selfish genetic system as we now have to, for example as attempted in books such as UNTO OTHERS (mentioned above) and NOT BY GENES ALONE (Richerson & Boyd). Both perspectives are essential in at least humans and possibly a few other highly social species (a few other primates, and some social carnivores).

    Vargas complains of whatever frivolous argument of national origin – hey, I resemble that remark. I tried to place your arguments into the social context they’re from (and you do emphasize context-dependent effects, aka epistasis). And I carefully included a Chilean critic of the distinctively Chilean system-theorizers such as Varela whose emphasis on autopoiesis has significantly shaped biology curricula there.

    This blog isn’t a graduate biology course but I’m impressed at the level of expertise generally shown – in particular, we’re familiar with the pros and cons of Dawkins’ arguments, which are a great deal richer than you seem familiar with – see Paul W’s comments above. You’ll find more interested readers – but not necessarily converts – if you provide a much richer rendering of your proposal (from your published abstract) “that an organism comes to be a unique organized whole of mutually correspondent parts that exist as such through realizing a particular mode of relationship with its environment, neither as a consequence of design, nor by the operation of an internal building plan or program.

    Earlier you wrote The scheme of selfish genes is nothing but reductionist. Read Gould. Mayr. It only works if genes are not context-dependent on their effects on the phenotype. Which of course, is false.

    Mayr’s criticisms of bean-bag genetics are well-known but not sufficient as a critique of Dawkins. Dawkins explicitly considered epistatic context-dependence of genetic effects in both THE SELFISH GENE and THE EXTENDED PHENOTYPE (which latter does not simply dissolve the organism as you stated). At the most lucid level Dawkins invoked his insightful analogy of selection on individual genes as comparable to the selection for individual oarsmen in racing teams: the boats (organisms) each win due to the total crew effort (context), but the tally of wins for individual oarsmen over multiple races determines their inclusion in future teams. Dawkins rued his inability to express this mathematically – few readers share that regret.

  125. #125 quork
    August 8, 2006

    PZ–I don’t know if I’m too new to this forum and its history to understand what’s going on between you and Vargas, but I am curious why you want to stifle his input.

    Here’s another data point for you: he’s been asked to leave twice already in this thread, and he’s still here.

  126. #126 Alexander Vargas
    August 8, 2006

    Paul W, you say
    “A lot of what you write sounds pretty much like “Dawkins is just a complete dope, and if you’re stupid enough to agree with him, so are you!”

    Lets be clear, this dichotomy is not what I m saying, no matter how forcefully I emphasize his more crappy ideas. The problem is that it is precisely these more crappy ideas of dawkins, and not his softerside, that have the ideological shine to them, that are popular and that people cling onto. Like making them believe “they already know” how evolution works through the overrated and false cartoon of the selfish genes, and of course, to connect this “triumph” of “sufficient knowledged” to a wholesale war on all religion… this is true crap , we must de able to see the frivolous motivations beneath.

  127. #127 Alexander Vargas
    August 8, 2006

    Thwaite, c’mon. Don´t tell me you haven’t read the total debunking of the crappy oarsmen metaphor done by Gould in the fat book. Oarsmen are additive, genes are not. As simple as that, Thwaite.

    By the way, that criticism of Maturana is a gossipy and not very elevated comment written by a quite ultradarwinian bloque who does not care for paleontology or development as true evolutionary science. You now, just another utradarwinian that thinks we still live in the fifties, with eyes only for equations of population genetics, oblivious to the succes of evo-devo…

    And Varela left no disciples in Chile. He lived in France for most of his carrer. Autopoiesis is taught at only one undergarduate course in Chile. But thats just too much for some ultradawinian Nespolo’s claims are quite frivolous and silly. He tries to conflate this with creationism… what a surprise!! Ultradarwinians are all cut with the same scissors.

  128. #128 Scott Hatfield
    August 8, 2006

    For those of you who still might be interested in Collins’ views and how he presents them to a body of fellow believers (as opposed to the general public), you can read his address to the American Scientific Affiliation here:

    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF9-03Collins.pdf

    There is also apparently videos of his address available on the ASA home page in more than one format.

    Hoping to be helpful….Scott

  129. #129 AndyS
    August 8, 2006

    Scott,

    Many thanks for the pointer to that speach by Collins. It’s a good read. Collins does a great job of detailing the benefits of Human Genome Project and explaining its subsequent ethical challenges. He also shows his liberal stripes on healthcare issues.

    There is a fair bit of acompanying “god-talk” since the speech was given to “the American Scientific Affiliation … a fellowship of men and women in science and disciplines that relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science.” So those PZ readers who have no other coping mechanism beyond ranting should maybe take a few calming breaths before reading it.

    Gotta love the quote he concludes with:

    “We must not then as Christians assume an attitude of antagonism toward the truths of reason or to the truths of philosophy or the truths of science or to the truths of history or the truths of criticism….”

    This is the sort of Christian scientist we should support and encourage. He’ll do more to undercut Dembski et al. than all the posts and comments on this blog.

  130. #130 PaulC
    August 8, 2006

    AndyS:

    This is the sort of Christian scientist we should support and encourage.

    What does “should” mean in this context? For that matter, who are “we”? Nobody is going to stop Collins from promoting his views on science and religion, but why should I support or encourage him?

    Even if I think he is doing some good by encouraging religious people to try and understand evolution instead of blindly rejecting it, I still do not approve of his message. I think his apologetics are unconvincing and contain nothing I have not been exposed to before. If he finds them convincing, then I have to conclude that he’s either falling prey to some blindspot (my working assumption and no big deal; we all have blindspots) or consciously defrauding his audience (much worse). Whichever it is, he can go ahead and do it without my encouragement.

    I don’t think Collins is even all that useful to the cause of science education. There are other scientists who demonstrate that you don’t have to be an atheist, but they’re not out there making a spectacle of themselves proselytizing.

    The constitution obliges me to respect his right to express his beliefs. It does not require me to offer him support or encouragement. I don’t think my support or encouragement is helpful anyway. I think he’s just plain wrong and would sound dishonest trying to pretend otherwise. So I find it extremely insulting to be told that “we” “should” do something at least assuming I’m part of “we.”

  131. #131 AndyS
    August 8, 2006

    Great White Wonder,

    Are you sure you only have three concerns? I’m guessing you have dozens more. I’m so glad you are here to remind us that religious people have feelings, too, and there is more than one kind of evangelical Christian. Keep up the great work.

    It’s not their feelings I’m concerned about, it’s their power as a voting block. You may have noticed we atheists don’t have a whole lot of political clout. Learning to support (or at least not attack) those Christians who advocate evolution and good science — especially the evangelical ones — is merely in our own self-interest.

    Now that we’ve got that out of the way, can you explain to me why criticizing Collins’ inane nonsense — which he published in a book and is now promoting in interviews to the press — makes me a “brownshirt”?

    You are taking this a bit too personally. What I said was, “This thread makes me think white lab coats are being worn over brown shirts.” I was thinking of how brownshirts symbolize intolerance, especially the kind of intolerance that extends into every minor deviation from the partyline. Sure, Collins has his flaws but attacking him for what are, at least to me, minor ones when he clearly supports and advocates for the major ones is counterproductive and, well, not too bright.

  132. #132 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 8, 2006

    Scott:
    The references you provided seems to me to make Collins position worse.

    First:
    The American Scientific Affiliation “is a fellowship of men and women in science and disciplines that relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science”, but is about “Science in Christian Perspective” and apologetics, which is not a commitment to integrity as stated.

    Of course they present creationistic essays. One such is ” A Theory of Theistic Evolution as an Alternative to the Naturalistic Theory” (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1995/PSCF6-95Mills.html ).
    “The author considers recent papers by Howard Van Till, Phillip Johnson, and Ian Thompson dealing with God’s sovereignty and the origin and evolution of living organisms.” “He insists that the origin of new genetic information is the major unanswered question of a naturalistic theory and proposes an intelligent cause (God) as a continuing provider of new genetic information.”

    Another essay is on ” Presuppositions of Science as Related to Origins” ( http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1990/PSCF9-90Mills.html ). “I want to introduce the term “intelligent cause”which was suggested by several of the philosophers of science at the Tacoma Conference.” “I believe the original presupposition-i.e., that everything can be explained in terms of natural processes-is no longer tenable.”

    They have also other terrible essays, such as the one on “A Christian View of the Foundations of Statistics” ( http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Mathematics/PSCF6-87geertsema.html ). It equivocates between bayesian estimates and frequentist probabilities. It concludes: “But the view of Statistics sketched here also has implications for t the teaching of Statistics by the Christian. Students should not only be taught “the facts” which modern textbooks present. They should also know that there are different presumptions as to what constitutes a “fact,” as well as different interpretations and uses of them.” This is the same mindset as creationism uses on education.

    Second:
    While the essay of Collins are less provocative on science he still digs himself in deeper.

    He quotes the bible as if it discusses science: “Psalm 8 refers to the interface between science and faith.”

    He seems to misunderstand junk DNA: “So I think we should probably remove the term “junk” from the genome. At least most of it looks like it may very well have some kind of function.”

    He think on abiogenesis that “it is noteworthy that this particular area of evolution, the earliest step, is still very much in disarray”, not that it is a young science with few or no observations.

  133. #133 windy
    August 8, 2006

    Sorry about feeding the troll, but

    Thwaite, c’mon. Don´t tell me you haven’t read the total debunking of the crappy oarsmen metaphor done by Gould in the fat book. Oarsmen are additive, genes are not.

    I couldn’t believe my eyes reading that comment. And you presume to lecture biologists about what is good science and what is not? Ever heard about additive genetic variation? Quantitative genetics?

    Sure, all genetic variation is not additive, but why on earth would we try to cross-breed animals and plants to combine desirable traits if such products were completely unpredictable?

    I also have been under the impression that oarsmen are unique, variable individuals, not clones, and may perform differently depending on how they match the other members of the team. If genes are not additive, neither are oarsmen.

  134. #134 PaulC
    August 8, 2006

    AndyS: Sorry, you cannot throw around a term like “brownshirt” and then coyly state that you just meant to “symbolize intolerance.” The comparison is inappropriate, offensive to the victims of the real brownshirts, and insulting to those metaphorically wearing “white labcoats” (i.e. scientists promoting evolution) who, despite your protests to the contrary, you definitely compared to Hitler’s thugs.

  135. #135 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 8, 2006

    Andy:
    “Learning to support (or at least not attack) those Christians who advocate evolution and good science — especially the evangelical ones — is merely in our own self-interest.”

    But the point is that Collins is bad on science outside his speciality in his effort to promote religion.

    “I was thinking of how brownshirts symbolize intolerance, especially the kind of intolerance that extends into every minor deviation from the partyline.”

    This is the fallacy of Godwin’s law. I also note that what GWW does is exactly what Collins does, express his beliefs. Which seems to make you the intolerant one here.

  136. #136 Scott Hatfield
    August 8, 2006

    Torjborn:

    ASA is a good resource, even if you’re not a member–as I am. They differ markedly from other such organizations for four significant reasons:

    1) They have been around in one form or another prior to WWII, and their on-line archives contain five decades worth of material

    2) While they have some young-earth creationist (YEC) subscribers, they are actually rather few in number. The hard-core YEC types tried to take over the organization in its infancy, lost the power struggle and largely went elsewhere

    3) They refrain from any sort of detailed doctrinal affirmation and do not involve themselves in any with politics

    4) They recognize a diversity of views on many topics, but do not require members to hold any particular viewpoint.

    It’s the last point I’d really like to emphasize. They do publish creationist stuff. They also publish theistic evolution stuff. I’ve seen pro-ID and anti-ID arguments. You’ll note, for example, that Collins is critical of ID and acknowledges that not everyone attending his talk may appreciate that position. It would be a mistake to think that a small sample of ASA papers constitutes any sort of group manifesto. After all, I’m a member in good standing and I would say my views are quite a bit more pro-evolution than Collins.

    I agree that his take on both ‘junk DNA’ and abiogenesis as glossed are pretty superficial and could be taken as misleading, but the reference to Psalm 8 is not really that damning. I don’t really think he’s trying to make the Bible appear as if it discusses science. Read Psalm 8: it’s topic is the natural world, and the sense of awe and wonder it evokes. The natural world inspires both believer and non-believer, and the inspiration seems to lead to different sort of claims which seemingly is the source of a lot of the head-butting between science and religion. In that context, his ‘interface’ remark is pretty innocuous.

    Cheers…Scott

  137. #137 AndyS
    August 8, 2006

    PaulC,

    What does “should” mean in this context? For that matter, who are “we”? Nobody is going to stop Collins from promoting his views on science and religion, but why should I support or encourage him?

    By “we” I mean those liberal, atheistic naturalists who wish to encourage clear thinking and good science education. “Should” in this context is about taking the most effective path toward those ends. Supposed there is a cult which programs its members to believe women should stay at home and make babies, but there’s one guy in a leadership role advocating effectively within the cult for equal rights for all. Wouldn’t it make sense to support that guy?

    Let’s be more dramatic. You’re a army sniper trying to take out terrorists holding hostages. You can hear them. One terrorist is trying to talk the others out of killing the hostages. He’s the only one you have a clear shot at. Do you take it and reduce the chances of the hostages being saved?

    I don’t think it is very effective to paint all evangelicals with the same broad brush and attack everything they say. There you have Collins right inside their camp, someone they will listen to, arguing for good positions. Just makes no sense to shoot him down because he’s not right on every issue.

    What’s that line? “Don’t sacrafice the good on the altar of the perfect.”

  138. #138 Chad
    August 8, 2006

    That waterfall he speaks of was composed of trillions and trillions of atoms, therefore he should become a hindu!

  139. #139 AndyS
    August 8, 2006

    PaulC,

    AndyS: Sorry, you cannot throw around a term like “brownshirt” and then coyly state that you just meant to “symbolize intolerance.” The comparison is inappropriate, offensive to the victims of the real brownshirts, and insulting to those metaphorically wearing “white labcoats” (i.e. scientists promoting evolution) who, despite your protests to the contrary, you definitely compared to Hitler’s thugs.

    You couldn’t have made my point more effectively. Nearly every comment I’ve ever made on this blog has been about tolerance, not just the ones on this post. And there is nothing “coy” about it. Intolerance is one of the great evils in the world and it begins seemingly innocently. Not speaking up about intolerance is offensive to its victims.

    Look at this and tell me it is not ridiculous:

    GWW: Evangelical Christianity is “very mild”? He wrote a fucking book devoted mainly to promoting his religion.

    Oh, the horror — a whole book promoting religion — and in America too. Or this sort of rhetoric:

    GWW: Let the record show: it’s 2006 and humans are still mostly willfully ignorant stooges reciting bullshit scripts which were penned centuries ago by even stupider people sitting around in shit-stained tunics while women and slaves washed the shit out of their spare shit-stained tunics.

    Lago: First I just need to say, “C.S.Lewis was a spaz…”

    Harmless Fundie: Can we get a gay bigot millionaire to donate a bunch of cash to start a “think tank” so we can spew propaganda in response?

    GWW: No wonder so many Christian guys are misogynist anti-gay bigots.

    To which you seem to agree:

    PaulC: You’re probably right. It actually does require some major spinning to get Christianity to line up with gay rights and feminism.

    (Are you really unaware of the many Christians find it quite easy to line up in that way with no spinning whatever? The hardright anti-science types win then, just by virtue of being a loud minority.)

    Then we get the juvenile end of the spectrum:

    GWW: What a surprise, a concern troll who can move goalposts, too.

    Steve LaBonne: Now I’m going to stop feeding the concern troll.

    I see a single voice of moderation:

    Scott Hatfield: Let’s not make the mistake of trying Dr. Collins as an apostate to our understanding of scientific method, as if science were just another belief system. Let’s evaluate his claims as such, and leave it at that.

    I think PZ is a pretty bright, liberal guy who balances his takedowns with posts on science, politics, and lots of humor. The trend in threads like this one, however, is for a number of commentors to try to be just as cutting and clever — unfortunately without the balance and with the kind of humor you find in junior high lockerrooms. It’s not healthy.

    I’m sorry you found my labcoat-brownshirt metaphor offensive, but I’m glad you noticed it.

  140. #140 thwaite
    August 8, 2006

    Vargas, thanks for your perspective on Maturana and Varela’s influence. I’ve no personal knowledge here, only a former teacher who collaborated throughout South America.

    “Gould’s big book” – an apt and nearly sufficient description of his final book, arguably his opus, THE STRUCTURE OF EVOLUTIONARY THEORY. I had to stop by the library to see his comments on Dawkin’s oarsmen analogy. I would have been genuinely interested in his exposition of how non-additive effects invalidated it, but it wasn’t there. Gould just says it’s a bad analogy. And I don’t buy that: as Windy and I noted, oarsmen find themselves interacting with crew after crew in differing boats, and the boat performance is far from an additive sum of the muscle effects: rowing a boat is a highly coordinated affair and requires good social skills which are always non-linear. A quantitative model really is needed here, but the analogy provides good intuition.

    And as windy noted, the main result of invoking non-additive and epistatic effects is fear and trembling and the sickness unto death (oops, wrong context: the scientist’s version is merely unpredictability, or in the vernacular: “woo”). This should prompt further research into, say, developmental systems as you argue and PZ performs.

    Gould acknowledges that in his treatment of Dawkins he’s doing textual criticism, which he notes is an odd and rare strategy in science (so why did he adopt it?). For treating George Williams, the less popular but more foundational gene selectionist who inspired Dawkins, Gould argues more conceptually but not more coherently. The concepts and arguments here are subtle: the distinction between genes as replicators (bookkeepers) and as interactors (but only via organismal assemblies) is one which Williams originated yet doesn’t accept as invalidating his gene-centered perspective. Gould admits he’s baffled why not – I’d give Williams the benefit of his own judgement. And Gould doesn’t explicitly offer any alternative genomic and/or systemic analysis – he only dismisses the gene-selectionist view (as you do). This is not helpful.

    This is becoming like a graduate seminar, so I’m not likely to continue further.

    Getting back to the main topic, it’s not clearly helpful to assert as you repeat that a gene-selection view is so laughable as to allow creationists and ID-er’s leverage. What advances in scientific understanding and predictability have a systemic/genomic view provided instead, that are more persuasive to ID-ers? Those *would* be helpful.

  141. #141 GH
    August 9, 2006

    I’m not sure why you impose the notion of a predetermined endpoint any reasonable notion of God’s plan.

    Simply because virtually all religions see humans as the pinnacle of this process. When it appears from all evidence that we cannot be. If he needed something in his own image I think the process is much less sensible than a miraculous creation.

    I’ll concede that if you’re a Calvinist, the universe might look like a curious way for God to go about his business. Barring that, any religion that assumes free will states explicitly that God does not have the outcome predetermined down to the last detail.

    Then is he not all knowing. I doubt many Christian religions would grant that as correct. But this is not my point. God would have had to know the outcome if humanity was his ultimate goal i.e in his image.

    And again, the final Christian outcome with the second coming of Jesus and so forth is clearly not a consequence of natural laws, so it’s well within the latitude of Christian belief to say that God provided humans with a natural universe within which to act and did not determine the outcome but will ultimately set it all straight using other than natural means.

    I honestly have come to see this as a cop-out. Whatever process is used to reanimate a human body would occur in the natural world. It would then be subject to science. I don’t see a way around this except in the world that exists between our ears, fantasy.

    This was more or less the brand of Roman Catholicism I was taught and it seems more reasonable and more intellectually appealing to me that biblical literalism, though I admit there are a lot inconsistencies regarding what that free will could possibly entail if we’re a product of natural law, or how God could be omniscient and not predetermine the outcome. So I don’t really believe this now, but I do find is as reasonable as evangelical literalist views, which have always struck me as childish and unimaginative.

    I honestly ahve the opposite view, I find the evangelicals honest in thinking it says what it says(to them) while I find RCC filled with what to me at least are simply fancy apologetics trying to ride the fence between what they want to be true and what they know is true.

    I like that better than the one where God put every daisy in the right place; even the most fanatical film director doesn’t have the degree of control. I.e., the reason I’m not religious isn’t because there is no potentially consistent story here.

    I don’t think this is a good analogy, one is a God afterall the other a man. I would expect a God to have that type of control. I just don’t think you can have any form of consitent belief outside of deism with evolution when it is properly understood. I don’t mean you can’t beliee whatever you want, I just don’t think it can be consistent.

  142. #142 Keith Douglas
    August 9, 2006

    Scott Hatfield: The data that people make use of in part is a result of scientific research. But the crucial premiss (that the constants of nature are variable in the way desired) is not a scientific finding. Worse, the inference drawn is a bad one regardless.

    Torbjörn Larsson: Right – basically I said so in more generality when I mentioned that “all” the big bang is the “origin” of our local hubble volume.

    “wish to encourage clear thinking” – AndyS: It is precisely because I want to encourage clear thinking that I have been criticizing Collins. I don’t claim to know whether he’s a sloppy thinker, a wishful thinker or whatever else, but only that his premisses contain serious errors and his reasoning is suspect even granting them. A friend of mine says one of the reasons she cares for me is because I can intellectually rip her to shreds. She says sometimes one needs to have that done to them. And so, even if Collins is “on our side” against the creationists and what not, I thus feel the need to improve upon what he has said for the reasons I have outlined earlier.

  143. #143 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    Windy, you say

    “I also have been under the impression that oarsmen are unique, variable individuals, not clones, and may perform differently depending on how they match the other members of the team. If genes are not additive, neither are oarsmen”

    and Thwaite says

    “the boat performance is far from an additive sum of the muscle effects: rowing a boat is a highly coordinated affair and requires good social skills which are always non-linear”

    Certainly, but you will never hear Dawkins making that point, (or he shouldn’t, unless I am overestimating him) because it would ruin the value of his metaphor. That is, if an oarsman does well in one team, but poorly in the other, whether he can be selected for or not will be context-dependent.

    “A quantitative model really is needed here, but the analogy provides good intuition”

    But what you just said implies that any simply quantitative model will be insufficient. You will need to model the epistatic interactions… what sometimes happens when you include this in models of genetic populations is that you can make qualitative, but not quantitative, predictions.

    Of course genes with additive effects exist, but we would die of old age asking a developmetal biologist to list cases where it is not like that. Moreover, there is the kind of unpopular (in this darwinian world) but quite real question of just how relevant truly are additive gene effects for evolution, and not just artficial slection…the answer is, not that much, but I’m not feeling generous enough today to give away the explanation haha (though someone may realize why)

    I agree Gould’s criticism may not be that good, but anyway what I myself say is valid.

  144. #144 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    Windy said

    “Sure, all genetic variation is not additive, but why on earth would we try to cross-breed animals and plants to combine desirable traits if such products were completely unpredictable?”

    That two genes affecting different traits may be combined in the same individual does not mean they are additive, much less that their function is not context-dependent. What you mean are genes that add up to a same trait, and that furthermore will do so regardless of the genetic background.

    And then again, not all desirable traits may be combined by crossbreeding. Because of the genomic architecture, epistasis, you name it.

    Thwaite, I am not an advocate of unpredictabiilty, but maybe YOU should be. You think models “a la Dawkins” are predictive, like Newtonian mechanics just because they have been expressed mathematically? Jeez man, no. And when I am pointing at epistatic interactions, I’m just letting you know one of the reasons WHY you will have very little predictive ability (possibly none beyond what is already obvious from the biology)

  145. #145 windy
    August 9, 2006

    That is, if an oarsman does well in one team, but poorly in the other, whether he can be selected for or not will be context-dependent.

    And with sexual reproduction, all genes/alleles will be selected for being good mixers, regardless of whether they are ‘selfish’ or not. Your points argue for gene-based selection effects, not against them.

    Of course genes with additive effects exist, but we would die of old age asking a developmetal biologist to list cases where it is not like that. Moreover, there is the kind of unpopular (in this darwinian world) but quite real question of just how relevant truly are additive gene effects for evolution, and not just artficial slection…the answer is, not that much, but I’m not feeling generous enough today to give away the explanation haha (though someone may realize why)

    Holy shit, this gets worse. Sorry to ask but are you going insane?

    KIND OF UNPOPULAR QUESTION?

    Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection stated in 1930 is that the rate of increase of the mean fitness is equal to the additive component of the genetic variance!!

    If you want challenges to that, statements about when non-additive variation is important, attempts to verify it, there’s 75 years of research on it. If you read those and still don’t like the current state of the art, do the math, like Fisher did. But don’t claim biologists have been avoiding the question.

  146. #146 Scott Hatfield
    August 9, 2006

    Keith Douglas:

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. ‘Fine tuning’ arguments are not necessarily unscientific because they suggest that constants might be variable unless this is explicitly coupled to the claim that said variance is due to the act of some untestable agency.

    I have three reasons why I think this is so, and one comment.

    1) First of all, there are any number of contemporary “theories” in physics which accept the premise that either constants can vary from one universe to the next, or else vary over time in our local universe. Many, if not all of these theories implicitly reject any strong anthropic principle; indeed, it seems to me that ‘multiverse’ enthusiasts like Susskind regard the elimination of ‘fine tuning’ arguments as an asset.

    As I’ve remarked elsewhere, I don’t particularly care for these ideas and definitely don’t think they should be accorded the status of ‘theory’ but I don’t think from this that I can safely conclude that such ideas are not science, either.

    2) Second, the mere employment of a premise in a thought experiment does not render the latter unscientific. Einstein asked what it would be LIKE to ride a wave of light, rather than assert that a person could ever ride such; similarly, it’s reasonable to ask what the Universe would be LIKE if this or that parameter varied in such and such a way without claiming that the parameter was variable either now or in the past.

    3) Third, some claims regarding the possibility of a variable parameter are testable claims. Barrow and Webb (2005) have, for example, described attempts to falsify the invariability of the fine structure constant here:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=1&articleID=0005BFE6-2965-128A-A96583414B7F0000

    Finally, I observe (and you seemed to note this, as well) that the question of whether the inference of Design from some version of the anthropic principle is scientific differs from the claim that it is a poor inference. Fred Hoyle crusaded his entire life against the Big Bang because of his distaste for a transcedent beginning (and hence a Beginner), yet famously remarked that a superintellect appears to have monkeyed with the laws of physics. That may not be a scientific claim, but (absent any demonstration that there is more than one universe) it is not clear to me that the inference is inherently flawed.

    Perhaps you could explain why you think that is so. I would also be interested in any comments/criticism/questions you might have regarding the arguments I give above.

    Regards….Scott

  147. #147 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 9, 2006

    Scott:
    “ASA is a good resource”

    Agreed.

    “3) They refrain from any sort of detailed doctrinal affirmation and do not involve themselves in any with politics

    4) They recognize a diversity of views on many topics, but do not require members to hold any particular viewpoint.”

    OTOH they publish nonscientific stuff while proclaiming “a commitment to integrity in the practice of science” and “Science in Christian Perspective” which is pretty damning in my eyes.

    With all respect, this seems to me to be one of those cases where PZ and others asks christians to take a stand against antiscientific or fundamentalistic activities. You say the YEC’s were largely ousted, but that isn’t enough. What is enough is another question, but the creationist stuff is unarguably antiscience, while deistic and theistic creationism and its many forms are obviously 😉 under debate.

    “I don’t really think he’s trying to make the Bible appear as if it discusses science.”
    In my eyes he does that so he makes it appear he has biblical support. We can drop the point since it is a matter of judgement and not terribly important in a singular case.

  148. #148 Squeaky
    August 9, 2006

    AndyS,
    Just so you don’t feel like you are alone in your position, I agree with you. I have taken the same position in the past, with mostly the same results. It is good to know there are people on both sides who see that extremism drives the sides further and further apart, and ultimately does science a terrible disservice.

    Thanks for your input.

  149. #149 PaulC
    August 9, 2006

    Squeaky: It’s almost a tautology to say that extremism drives sides further apart, but how is it extremist for me to say that I find Collins’s apologetics unconvincing and cannot support his public speech in this area? I support his right to such speech, and I agree with him on some points such as the ability for science and religion to coexist–although I consider it more of a psychological stopgap than a constructive development.

    His stance strikes me as proselytizing and I don’t really think it is necessary to the cause of furthering scientific understanding among religious believers. He’s effectively drawn his own line in the sand by insisting that I have to view Dawkins’s statements as divisive and counterproductive when in fact I think Dawkins and, for instance PZ, are just refreshingly honest voices on the subject of evolution and belief in God. But I don’t demand that anyone share my view on that either. There is room for many opinions. I think Collins is as guilty as anyone in trying to exclude voices from the dialogue.

  150. #150 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    “And with sexual reproduction, all genes/alleles will be selected for being good mixers, regardless of whether they are ‘selfish’ or not. Your points argue for gene-based selection effects, not against them”

    Huh? Am I the only one who does not get what you mean? All I’m telling you is that epistatic interactions exist, therefore, selectability of a gene is context dependent, and you come up with these mental gymnastics, that selection will favor good mixers (as if epistatic interactions that make a gene non selectable would disappear by… selection!! hahaha) and moreover you say that this will happen regardless of their effect on the organism’s fitness? You think genes are just “so” autonomous, huh? Looks like you are chaisng your tail on a load of rhetorical crap. See if you can propose an empirical implication of this your explanation.

    “Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection stated in 1930 is that the rate of increase of the mean fitness is equal to the additive component of the genetic variance!!”

    Which is exactly why it is unpopular, in this darwinian world, to point out the ugly truth, that what fisher talks about is porbably not importnt in evolution. Of course people have been concerned, but only recently we have the molecular resolution for field and experimental evolution, and the fact is that additivity is not important, yet no one wants to point it out.

    “Do the math????” Present the math. Show me my mathematical errors, if that’s what it truly boils down to. I hope you were not just talking out of your ass. Bring out some real math!!!

  151. #151 Squeaky
    August 9, 2006

    I’m not saying it isn’t OK to have points of disagreement with Collins. But the point AndyS is making is that there are bigger fish to fry. If Collins is making inroads into Christianity such that people are finding that evolution and the age of the earth are not nearly as scary as they have been made out to be, isn’t that progress?

    I think it’s important to understand who his audience is. Unless I’m mistaken, he’s trying to promote science to Christians, many of whom have been taught to fear it as anti-God. I don’t think he is so much prosletyzing Christianity to scientists as he is prosletyzing science to Christians.

    AndyS’s point is that if scientists go after Collins on this, what it looks like from the Christian perspective is that the reservations scientists have is motivated by a prejudice against Christians. They will say (and they WILL say this), “Collins is being attacked by those atheistic scientists because he is a Christian.” They will not understand that scientists are raising concerns about science, nor will they even fully understand what those concerns are. So, again, they will reject science as anti-God, and no progress will be made.

    I understand the reservations scientists may have, but on the other hand, sometimes one can focus too much on the trees and completely miss out on the forest.

    And I admit I am conflicted on the issue, because I do understand and accept the point that science needs to be honest. It does, however, seem to be possible to maintain the honesty without undermining Collin’s efforts to promote Science to the Christian community. I don’t think it would be too much to acknowledge and support his efforts while at the same time expressing concern about some of his points.

  152. #152 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 9, 2006

    “Your points argue for gene-based selection effects, not against them.”
    Even I got that and I’m not a biologist.

    Keith, Scott:
    I agree with much that Scott says here on finetuning. Already QFT’s has a lot of vacuum states, and string theory as a presumed QG theory too. So at least the cosmological constant (vacuum energy) varies and must be finetuned in theories to date.

    But I also believe that if we have to resort to the weak anthropic principle (which Polchinsky argues is parsimonous in string theory) instead of determinism or the tautological principle, it still doesn’t imply anything since any outcome is allowed in a probabilistic case.

  153. #153 Squeaky
    August 9, 2006

    PaulC–and in regards to extremism, I was refering more to the bulk of AndyS’ statements, not to any one particular comment he or anyone else made. I don’t regard your comments as extremist.

    A little more on the prosletyzing aspect–as I said, I don’t think it is directed at scientists–and I don’t think that I agree that it is ineffective within the Christian community. By and large, most Christians will appreciate the stance he takes. He is not speaking in “scientist mode” to his audience. He is speaking in “Christian who is also a scientist mode”. In a way, he is popularizing science to the general Christian population, much in the same way other authors have popularized science to the general population as a whole.

  154. #154 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 9, 2006

    “And I admit I am conflicted on the issue, because I do understand and accept the point that science needs to be honest. It does, however, seem to be possible to maintain the honesty without undermining Collin’s efforts to promote Science to the Christian community.”

    That isn’t possible if he distorts the science.

    It is also hard to understand why keeping science and its social projection honest is considered to be an extremist view since it is what scientists generally want.

    It also seems intolerant to attack this view on completely loose grounds. “What-if” doesn’t cut it in science, why should it be considered here?

    What says that not carefully explaining science instead of a distorted christian view of it would be successful?

    Why should dishonesty automatically be a good survival value for a political agenda? Experience says otherwise.

    Questions abound; good answers are few. But it is clear that the above citation claims the impossible.

  155. #155 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    Sounds like you believe that genes with too many epistatic interactions will be eliminated in favor of genes that “save themselves” by a completely autonomous, self contained effect, that may or may not involve the fitness of the organism. Yet, reality is, it is CHOCK-FULL of epistatic interactions out there, thats right, not what your model would predict.
    And you say that when I point out that standing context-dependency of gene effects, this reinforces your view…well that’s just nutty.

  156. #156 arensb
    August 9, 2006

    Every time I read something like this:

    If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it.

    I’m reminded of my High School physics teacher, who pointed out that gravitational and electromagnetic attraction is proportional to r^-2. Or rather, to r^k, where k = -2.000000 to as many decimals as we could measure. He added that physicists are naturally suspicious of integers, so they went looking for an explanation for this number.

    A geometrical explanation presented itself: if object A threw out a bunch of particles in all directions, the number of these particles that reached object B would fall off in proportion to the square of the distance between them, simply because the surface of a sphere is proportional to the square of its radius. And we know that electric attraction is carried by photons, so this explanation makes some kind of sense.

    So whenever I hear that universal constants had to have certain values to within some tiny tolerance, I can’t help wondering whether that’s like being grateful that pi is pi, and not 3.15.

  157. #157 windy
    August 9, 2006

    Torbjörn Larsson wrote

    “Your points argue for gene-based selection effects, not against them.”
    Even I got that and I’m not a biologist.

    Thanks 😉

    Vargas wrote:

    All I’m telling you is that epistatic interactions exist, therefore, selectability of a gene is context dependent

    Way to point out the obvious. You still have no evidence for your claims how epistasis, proposed in 1909(!) has been ignored by biologists ever since or how it makes gene selection any less likely.

    and you come up with these mental gymnastics, that selection will favor good mixers (as if epistatic interactions that make a gene non selectable would disappear by… selection!! hahaha) and moreover you say that this will happen regardless of their effect on the organism’s fitness?

    No, I’m not saying that, you’re just insane. “Make a gene non-selectable”? What the hell?

    “Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection stated in 1930 is that the rate of increase of the mean fitness is equal to the additive component of the genetic variance!!”
    Which is exactly why it is unpopular, in this darwinian world, to point out the ugly truth, that what fisher talks about is porbably not importnt in evolution. Of course people have been concerned, but only recently we have the molecular resolution for field and experimental evolution, and the fact is that additivity is not important, yet no one wants to point it out.
    “Do the math????” Present the math. Show me my mathematical errors, if that’s what it truly boils down to. I hope you were not just talking out of your ass. Bring out some real math!!!

    I mean that Fisher did the math. I hardly have to repeat his efforts, it’s all in those 1930s articles. Tell us what’s wrong with them because no one will accept your word just based on some blog comments.

    Perhaps you are suggesting that non-additive variation is more important in speciation, macroevolution or whatnot than the additive component, which is quickly depleted by selection. But “quickly depleted by selection” means that it *is* a major player in natural selection, whether you like it or not.

    One of the thousands of articles on epistasis:

    Epistasis Underlying a Fitness Trait Within a Natural Population of the Pitcher-Plant Mosquito, Wyeomyia smithii
    http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/full/169/1/485

    You’ll note that epistasis is not ignored, but neither does it disprove Fisher’s theorem or show that additive variation is unimportant.

  158. #158 windy
    August 9, 2006

    Sounds like you believe that genes with too many epistatic interactions will be eliminated in favor of genes that “save themselves” by a completely autonomous, self contained effect, that may or may not involve the fitness of the organism.

    No, stupid, I’m not saying that. Epistatic interactions are part of the *environment* in which a gene or allele is selected, if one looks at it from a gene-selectionist viewpoint.

  159. #159 Steve LaBonne
    August 9, 2006

    You’re wasting your time and raising your blood pressure for nothing, windy; the troll clearly has no clue about population genetics and is incapable of buying one. Just ignore it until PZ gets around to banning it.

  160. #160 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    Windy, you present this study.

    “Epistasis Underlying a Fitness Trait Within a Natural Population of the Pitcher-Plant Mosquito, Wyeomyia smithii”

    This is the abstract (nice & brief )

    “We selected on divergent photoperiodic response in three separate lines from a natural population of the pitcher-plant mosquito, Wyeomyia smithii. Line crosses reveal that there exists within a population, diverse epistatic variation for a fitness trait that could contribute to adaptive potential following founder events or rapid climate change”

    So you present this case to argue that you don’t ignore epistasis. But this is a typical strategy. A diplomatic ackowledging nod, yes, something different can occur, but then we make THIS the main subject: That it does not mean that the other (adaptation from additive genes) do not occurr, nor that it is not important (that is, frequent).
    A strategy repeatedly used by the ultradarwinian to convince himself he is “not ignoring” cases that are not what he/she likes the best.

    If you look back at the history of the founders of population genetics, only Wright took epistatic interactions seriously: Fisher and Haldane did not. And during the more dark days of the dogmatic hardening of the synthesis, Wright was ignored. Epistasis has been taken more seriously in population genetics only more recently. See, you will inevitably find epistasis over and over again in the actual biological world.

  161. #161 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    Honestly, what’s going on? We’re just talking some science here!!! Jeez…can’t the dawkobots take it??? They just pop up, no arguments, cheerleading or bitterly pleading for censorship…

  162. #162 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    Epistasis, just the environment of a gene? Fair enough. Because it also happens, that genes may have an effect or not, depending on the environmental surroundings of the organism…

  163. #163 Alexander Vargas
    August 9, 2006

    But windy, this does no eliminate the problem of context dependency, it only reformulates it. That is, the “environment” of a gene (be it another gene or the organism’s surroundings) can mechanistically determine whether the gene has any means by which it could be selected or not. Its not in the gene itself. You must realize, specially given the actual importnace of standing epistasis, that this IS, indeed, a very serious problem for the selfish gene scheme. This is why selfish genes are not mainstream evolutionary theory, however popular they may be among paperback readers.

  164. #164 Alejandro
    August 9, 2006

    I have picked up Collins’ remarks on the Big Bang and criticized them here. All interested parties are welcome.

    [/blogwhore]

  165. #165 windy
    August 9, 2006

    But windy, this does no eliminate the problem of context dependency, it only reformulates it. That is, the “environment” of a gene (be it another gene or the organism’s surroundings) can mechanistically determine whether the gene has any means by which it could be selected or not. Its not in the gene itself.

    And the environment of an organism can mechanistically determine whether an organism has any means to be selected or not. This does not mean that organisms aren’t selected for or that they can’t be selfish.

    You must realize, specially given the actual importnace of standing epistasis, that this IS, indeed, a very serious problem for the selfish gene scheme.

    So you keep saying, but fail to provide evidence for.

    This is why selfish genes are not mainstream evolutionary theory, however popular they may be among paperback readers.

    All genes being selfish is debatable, *some* genes being definitely ‘selfish’ _is_ a part of mainstream evolutionary research. Otherwise, please explain the existence of segregation distorters, male-killing genes etc.

    Note that the simplest model of meiotic drive involves two loci (‘Killer’ and ‘Target’) which comprise AN EPISTATIC INTERACTION.

    Now I will take Steve’s advice and go do something more productive. I’ll be looking for your article disproving Fisher’s theorems and 75 years of evolutionary research in Nature. Be sure to tell us if the Evolutionary Atheist Conspiracy rejects it for having too much epistasis talk in it. Toodles.

  166. #166 Alexander Vargas
    August 10, 2006

    “I’ll be looking for your article disproving Fisher’s theorems and 75 years of evolutionary research in Nature. Be sure to tell us if the Evolutionary Atheist Conspiracy rejects it for having too much epistasis talk in it. Toodles”

    See, you say stuff like that, you make yourself look biased. I’m not saying that Fishers theorems are wrong, and who knows whatever you mean with 75 years of science. Are you conflating “evolutionary research” with “selfish genes”? I know you can do better than that.
    What I have brought into question, is how important genes with additive effects in fact are, given the profusion of epistasis, and yes, related to that, of course I consider the gene centered view of selfish genes is false.
    (Can’t dawkobots acknowledge that opposition can be serious? They always toss around silly fluff and act like fundies).

    “All genes being selfish is debatable, *some* genes being definitely ‘selfish’ _is_ a part of mainstream evolutionary research”.

    Well, you move closer to the point. Let me help you a bit. All genes being selfsh is not debatable, it is false. And many examples of selection at the single gene level get debunked or eternally stay at some sort of limbo between hypothesis and fact.
    As I said, at least you ackowlegde that not al genes are selfish therefore, it is natural to question waht is the relevance of the selfish gene scheme for actually understanding evolution (yes, beyond just stating “they created us body and mind”, heehee)

    “And the environment of an organism can mechanistically determine whether an organism has any means to be selected or not”

    Truly so. This point allows us to question if selection is truly as relevant as some make it to be (remember the importance of constraints, the origin of variation)

    “This does not mean that organisms aren’t selected”

    Pfff of course not, but there you go again, in the end you are ignoring the implications that selectability is environment-dependent.

  167. #167 Keith Douglas
    August 10, 2006

    Scott Hatfield, Torbjörn Larsson: Fine tuned in the theory, in the sense that the value of various parameters has to be put in by hand, sure. I agree with that. But that does not rule out a lowever level theory showing that the parameters are fixed consequences of more basic laws. (Or the converse; claiming either way goes beyond the evidence.) I guess I don’t know at what point a blatant error (like Collins’) becomes pseudoscience or the like. The more crucial error in any case is the fallacy pointed out by Douglas Adams in that “puddle story” people have discussed elsewhere. Incidentally also, if you are a Bayesian (and I am not), there is also the Jeffreys argument which shows that the anthropic coincidences are actually guaranteed after a fashion in a naturalistic universe and are less likely in a theistic cosmology. (I think ultimately the latter is incoherent, but granting the premiss…)

    arensb: Sort of. After all, the nuclear forces do not fall off as the inverse square. Incidentally, the same argument was used (I believe first by Leibniz) to “prove” that space was 3 dimensional. (There is a mistake in the reasoning, of course, because it assumes that forces have to propagate throughout space and not a restricted subspace: in that sense it begs the question.)

  168. #168 windy
    August 10, 2006

    I’ll just note that the troll forgot to tell us how a segregation distorter system with a ‘Killer’ and a ‘Target’ locus is

    a) not selfish?
    b) not epistatic?

  169. #169 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 10, 2006

    Keith, Scott:
    Obviously I made a mistake.

    Keith said originally “But the crucial premiss (that the constants of nature are variable in the way desired) is not a scientific finding.”

    That is true. I misread that as claiming that mechanisms such as chance (tautological anthropic principle) was not scientific hypotheses. They are, but “claiming either way goes beyond the evidence”.

    I don’t particularly like the two realistic anthropic principles, as I understand them – the tautological without considering a probability distribution, and the weak that seems to consider such a distribution. But I can live with them, and Joe Polchinski, wellknown theorist, makes that point that the weak principle is currently parsimonous due to the interconnect between the meager ideas that constitutes todays knowledge.

    I definitely don’t like the confusion between bayesian estimates and probability. Probabilities with welldefined quantitative meaning (ever better accuracy with measuring) are only modelled correctly by frequentist probability. They are also the only probabilities predicted by meaningful physical theories. Though I think constraining sparse events with estimates can be useful.

    I wasn’t aware of the Jefferys (& Ikeda & Sober) argument.

    After some googling I believe it is summarised as “Thus, the correct comparison is between (A) the probability that “the constants are right” given design and our own existence, versus (B) the probability that “the constants are right” given a naturalistic universe and our own existence. Since in a naturalistic universe our own existence implies that the constants must be right, this means that (B) is equal to 1. What about (A)? Clearly, since probabilities are always less than or equal to 1, (A) cannot be larger than 1, so the ratio of (B) to (A) must be at least 1. This means that observing that “the constants are right” cannot undermine the naturalistic hypothesis.” ( http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/784_review_of_emthe_privileged_p_6_7_2005.asp ).

    It is a clever argument to use on bayesians, which many users of anthropic reasoning are. Thanks for the heads up!

    “the same argument was used (I believe first by Leibniz) to “prove” that space was 3 dimensional.”
    Interesting idea. The question begging isn’t large if one assumes universality, but it still misses the goal completely.

    It reminds me of the efforts to see if gravity is larger-dimensional in a string brane world scenario. (Which would explain its weakness without finetuning BTW.) The force behaviour is probed at very small distances to find out.

  170. #170 Alexander Vargas
    August 10, 2006

    Gimme a reference. I’m interested.

  171. #171 Alexander Vargas
    August 10, 2006

    You know, Windy, there is so much silliness in all these adaptationist debates, specially on topics like sexual conflict and such. Last time I read this whole idea connecting methilation (oh most epigenetic) to gene selection, polyandry, polyginy and body size. It was a truly sorry mess, conceptually and empirically. So I’d really like to check on these superstar cases that you are talking about, and see if they convince me. Have I said that selection for a selfish gene cannot ever drive evolution? Nope. So bring it on!

  172. #172 thwaite
    August 10, 2006

    The wikipedia article on intragenomic conflict is a reasonable effort, and concludes with a list of books in this very active research area, including Bob Trivers’ latest (with A. Burt) GENES IN CONFLICT, 2006. The topic is so large that books are more appropriate than papers for entry.
    Sorry, I won’t be able to ‘bring it on’ here any further, even if it were appropriate for the thread.

  173. #173 Alexander Vargas
    August 10, 2006

    Jeez well of course I knew about stuff like B chromosmes, wolbachia and parthenogenesis, and letal maternal effects… so lemme just ask you guys a question.. do you consider all those cases cited in that wikipedia article to be at the same level as to demonstrating how selfish genes can drive evolution? Or would you say some are more clear cut than others? So we can get to the core of stuff and thus avoid wasting time on debunking the easy ones…

  174. #174 gordonsowner
    August 10, 2006

    fyi… did anyone catch the NPR science friday interview with francis collins on august 4th? here’s the mp3: http://media.libsyn.com/media/sciencefriday/scifri-2006080425.mp3

    [i would have posted this earlier, but i’ve been on vacation.]

    as well as the objections to collins’ line of argument i’ve seen here (which apply to the radio interview), i have to fault the Science Friday show for not balancing this out with someone else who disagreed. Their other guest on this topic was another Christian scientist Owen Gingerich. Ira Flatow did some work to bring in the opposing viewpoint, and put some good challenging questions to Collins (who dominated the interview of the two scientists), but still, having no guest opposing viewpoint seems frankly unbalanced. you can get the rest of the audio info here at: http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2006/Aug/hour2_080406.html

  175. #175 Ken Cope
    August 10, 2006

    Francis Collins will be the guest at 3:00 pm Pacific Time on San Francisco’s KGOAM810 Pete Wilson program (an interviewer who chanted “Scientism!” along with DI fellow Wesley J. Smith when he was a guest), and subject to emails and live phone calls. Pete Wilson can be reached at petewilson4@yahoo.com and the call-in number for the show is (area codes 415, 510, 408, 650, 707) 808 0810; on-air fax is 415 362 5827. The show streams live at http://www.kgoam810.com/listenlive.asp

    Apologies for the late notice. I can’t participate due to teaching schedule; I hope some of you can challenge him on his conflation of science and religion.

  176. #176 Alexander Vargas
    August 11, 2006

    I think that to see those cases as “selfish genes” is a amtter of preferences. Antagonistic interactions can be found all over biology, within and between organisms.
    Nonadaptive changes at the cellular-molecular level happen all the time and may stay, despite that they may not increase fitness, or may even lower it. This to me just illustrates the non-pervasiveness of selection at the organismal level. It seems to me absurd to think these cases illustrates cellular-molecular elements “rising above” or “controlling” the organism level (as in the “lumbering robots” visions) . Because quite plainly these meolcuar-cellular changes cannot go beyond the preservation of the life cycle of the organism that harbors it. It completely depends on it.

    Windy, about the killer-resistant mechanism of “meiotic” drive, if a parent has a killer an resistance genes, but another has resistance genes, isn’t that enough to render the killer gene non-selectable?

  177. #177 Ken Cope
    August 11, 2006

    My email to Collins’ host for the interview:

    First of all, congratulations on having found your very first Christian who doesn’t reject science. When I (an atheist) engage people hostile to science because of their religion, I have many Christian or otherwise theist allies who consider creationism to be not just bad science, but bad theology. These are people who share Collins’ religious faith, but who are also convinced that facts must trump beliefs. Unfortunately, Collins represents somebody whose theology is so muddled, it’s no surprise that he muddles the rules of evidence and plain rational discourse. His argument reduces to asking us to believe the evidence for his faith is scientific because he’s a scientist. He wants us to read what Christians call “evidences” as what scientists call “evidence” which is what most of us call “dishonest.”

    Your first sentence, claiming interest in the debate between creationists and “evolutionists” tells me (in a charitable interpretation) that you could pay more attention to the terms of the debate. “Evolutionist” is a pejorative, used by creationists the same way you would be accused of being a “round earthist” or a “gravitationalist”. Oh, and watch out for science. It’s [scare quotes] secular! and [scare quotes] humanistic! I think you left out “non-sectarian.” What other sorts of science did you have in mind? Supernatural science? Christian science? Muslim science? Jewish? Buddhist? Soviet science? Republican science? Scientology?

    Questions I’d have asked Collins:
    What is the evidence for other kinds of information to which science is blind? What kind of value would other kinds of information have for science, and what is the property of those blinders? If science is one way of knowing, and faith is another, why should we leave out ignorance as a way of knowing, or telepathy as a way of knowing, or channeling? What tool does Collins propose we use to distinguish among the different ways of knowing? How does he propose we distinguish between knowing and say, not knowing? Is it more valid to criticize science for not addressing to his satisfaction the question, “why are we here?” than to criticize the theory of relativity for its failure to help us choose where we shall eat? Should science be taken to task for being no better at understanding the question, “is there a god?” than “what color is a balrog?” Aren’t balrogs easier to define than the panoply of definitions clustered around the loaded word “god?”

    You started to ask a challenging question, “What about the capacity of the human mind to conceive of anything?” then turned it into a capitulation, “that science can’t explain.” What, there are no scientific explanations for the existence of the mind and imagination?

    Collins then invokes the strawman of the “extreme wing of the scientific materialist” that must deride such questions, presenting a false dichotomy that if science does not address such questions, then of necessity they must fall exclusively into the purview of religion. For questions of meaning and other ineffables, is there no role for science, medicine, poetry, literature, music, art, architecture, terpsichore, drama, or in living as full and honest a life as can be managed? These conceptions and behaviors of the human mind take place within and without religion and science.

    As for the rest, his tired argument for morality of necessity having a religious basis (and as for the morality of his god, is nobody taught to read the Greeks these days? Has he not read Socrates and the Euthyphro dilemma? Haven’t you?), and trotting out Lewis’s lame “lord, liar, or lunatic” trichotomy. Ultimately, he provides evidence only for his belief. Bully for him! Whatever gets him through the night! Had he only started and stopped with his faith, I’d have nothing to criticize.

    Then I heard you accuse atheism of being a religion. I suppose it must be, in much the same way that chastity is a sex act, freedom slavery and war peace. When you think about it, isn’t continence just another way of soiling your pants?

  178. #178 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 14, 2006

    “It is a clever argument to use on bayesians, which many users of anthropic reasoning are.”

    I realised that since byesians estimates are used successfully to investigate parsimonity of models, it is in fact usable as such even for events that happens no or one time. So I can use Jefferys argument.

    And as I’m writing this a similar discussion is taking place on http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/08/big_numbers_bad_antievolution.php , where it is pointed out that “retrospective errors” such as creationistic finetuning makes can conceal fantastic small estimates for their finetuning hypothesis.

    “A simple example of this is: shuffle a deck of cards. What’s the odds of the particular ordering of cards that you got from the shuffle? 1/52! = 1/(8 * 10^67). If you then ask “What was the probability of a shuffling of cards resulting in this order?”, you get that answer: 1 in 8 * 10^67 – an incredibly unlikely event. But it wasn’t an unlikely event; viewed from the proper perspective, some ordering had to happen: any result of the shuffling process would have the same probability – but one of them had to happen. So the odds of getting a result whose specific probability is 1 in 8 * 10^67 was actually 1 in 1.”

  179. #179 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 14, 2006

    “I realised that since byesians estimates are used successfully to investigate parsimonity of models, it is in fact usable as such even for events that happens no or one time.”

    Ie to compare models, as Jefferys does, even for other purposes than parsimonity.

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